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Beloved Public Plaza to Return to Asphalt in Detroit

4:43 PM PDT on July 18, 2019

Photo: Downtown Detroit Partnership

The Spirit of Detroit is, apparently, cars.

A public plaza built two years ago as a "people's park" surrounding Detroit's iconic statue will not be made permanent, thanks to a vote on Tuesday by the City Council. Thanks to the 4-4 vote, a public space that the city's own website calls a "plaza ... civic, culinary and cultural attractions that highlight the many Detroit voices and a unique identity" will likely be bulldozed back into asphalt.

Reporting from the Detroit News didn't clarify council members' objections beyond vague worries about traffic and terrorism. According to the paper, studies have shown the public space had not had any significant impact on traffic.

About 5,000 people a month used the park space, which hosted artists, concerts and food trucks from around the region, in addition to sculptor Marshall Fredericks's master work: a huge statue of a man on his knees holding a gilded bronze sun in his left hand and a family group in his right — a symbolic balance of God and human relationships. The statue is often cloaked in sports uniforms when local teams are participating in league playoffs.

The Spirit of Detroit, during a hockey playoff series. Photo: James Marvin Phelps
The Spirit of Detroit, during a hockey playoff series. Photo: James Marvin Phelps
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The plaza was considered semi-permanent, but the Council also delayed a vote to authorize $800,000 for street furniture, landscaping and play equipment for the site, further dooming the plaza's prospects.

Supporters of public space blasted the council for its vote.

"The implementation of this plaza in front of one of Detroit's most photographed icons, The Spirit of Detroit, created a safe place for people, downtown employees and tourists, to gather," said David Gifford, a board member at Transit Riders United in Detroit. "The plaza was instrumental in calming traffic on lower Woodward and making it safer for people to cross the street."

The park was built with private money, including from the Downtown Detroit Partnership. Under the city's plan, the plaza would be removed in November.

Update (July 18, 2019; 11:06 a.m.): The Detroit News now reports that City Council may reconsider the vote at a meeting Tuesday.

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