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Now Docking
Detroit's evolving waterfront gets new terminal building.
Hamilton Anderson

In mid-June, Detroit’s Public Dock and Boat Terminal will open in a new 21,000 square foot building on the city’s riverfront designed by Hamilton Anderson Architects. Formerly a General Motors parking lot, the 1.2 acre site will link two segments of the city’s public riverfront that were previously disconnected, adding 300 feet of walkway. The city has completed three miles of the outdoor walkway since founding the Detroit River Front Conservancy in 2003. When complete, the promenade will stretch five and half miles running from the Ambassador Bridge in the east to Belle Isle in the west.

Though the design of the metal and glass building is modest, the architects floated part of the second floor of the building on columns to maintain views of the river down the intersection, making for an artful addition to the waterfront. Its four programmatic areas include a 5,000 square foot event space that will also convert to a boarding and luggage area when ships dock. The building has a passenger lounge, a Border Control office and the Port Authority’s offices. The downtown site is next to the international car tunnel that runs under the Detroit River to Windsor, Canada. It is also between Hart Plaza, a vast, open-air site used for outdoor festivals, and the Renaissance Center, a group of seven interconnected skyscrapers owned by GM.


Thomas Sherry, a principal at Hamilton Anderson, explains that this building is an important initiative to attract tourism in a city that has traditionally used its riverfront for industrial purposes. Steven Olinek, executive director of the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority, adds that, “one of our mandates is to promote tourism, which is Michigan’s second largest industry. So we’re very excited about the impact this will have on the economy.” The Port Authority learned on Friday, May 27, that a Great Lakes cruise ship will run 12 roundtrips from the city in 2012. The Port Authority is also working on a plan to bring in ferries, water taxis, tall ships, dinner boats, and naval vessels. The 250-foot off-shore wharf is designed to accommodate up to a 450-foot vessel. Boats are expected to run from April to October but the building, with expansive river views and 5,000 square feet of space to rent, will be open year round.

Sarah F. Cox