In a spot teeming with flowers along the Detroit River just east of the bridge…
Profile: David Page
At age 78, community leader has no plans to slow down.
David Page fits a lot of activity into a day.
He’s a partner with the Honigman law firm in Detroit, where he’s worked for 53 years. He’s vice chair of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. He chairs the Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation and is on many boards, including the Jewish Fund, Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, City Year Detroit, Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan, Detroit Zoo and Detroit Chamber Music Society.
That’s the short version. On his official bio sheet, under “Community Involvement,” there are 60 bullet points.
He also invests in businesses, serves on company boards, and loves to travel and spend time with his grandchildren. He worships at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township.
If you’re wondering how he finds the time for it all, “so does my wife,” he says, laughing.
Does he ever think about slowing down?
“I do think about it,” he says, “but I never do anything about it.”
He credits the variety in his life as a key motivator.
“That’s one of the beauties of practicing law,” he says. “Every day you come to the office, you confront a new issue and a new set of people.”
He also finds great joy and satisfaction in giving back. He credits the role models early in his career for getting him on the path toward community involvement.
“Until I was here [at Honigman], I really wasn’t focused on helping others,” he recalls. “I had a number of excellent examples — Jason Honigman, Jack Miller, Alan Schwartz — superb lawyers, fully engaged in practice, but very much involved in giving back to the community in many ways.”
He recalls being asked to serve on the board at Children’s Hospital 40 years ago.
“It was easy to say yes. Our oldest son had life-threatening asthma, and his life was saved a couple of times there. I didn’t need a reason other than that. I fell in love with the place. Everyone from the hospital president to the chief of the medical staff to the nurses, to the janitors — they’re all there for the right reasons. They care about kids, and they’ve really made a difference in this community.”
One particularly satisfying activity is his involvement with the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. From his office on the 22nd floor of the First National Building in Downtown Detroit, he can see the river. He is proud of its transformation over the past decade.
“Ten years ago, our riverfront was broken sidewalks and streets, cement silos spewing dust, vacated industrial buildings,” he recalls. “Now, on a nice spring or summer day, you see nice parks and walkways with people biking, walking and fishing with their kids.”
He remembers how the effort to transform the riverfront began.
“I was on the board of the Kresge Foundation,” he recalls. “We started to look at how we could best make a major difference in the city beyond our sustaining contributions. We decided to put together a public-private partnership to improve the riverfront.”
That group, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, began to raise funds to develop parks and green spaces along the 5.5-mile stretch of the river between the Ambassador Bridge and Gabriel Richard Park near Belle Isle. The effort was started with $50 million from the Kresge Foundation — the largest grant in its history.
“Our vision was to serve as a catalyst for development that could really change the face of Detroit for the next century,” he says.
The effort began in 2003 with a focus on the waterfront east of Hart Plaza. Today, about 80 percent of that segment has been developed. Gabriel Richard Park has been refurbished. The plaza and pavilion at Rivard Plaza is bustling with activity during the summer. The Fountains at the GM Plaza and Promenade are a popular gathering place. The 1.35-mile Dequindre Cut greenway is now open to Eastern Market. Just east of the Renaissance Center is the 31-acre William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor, the only urban state park. The area also includes Chene Park, with its 6,000-seat amphitheater.
Planned this year are improvements to Mt. Elliott Park to make it more kid friendly. Other development in the area includes a new dock terminal, a Presbyterian Village senior center and a charter high school for science and math. The riverfront development has attracted new events, including River Days and the Red Bull air races.
Page said the conservancy has raised $106 million of the $140 million needed for the effort. Most of the funding has come from foundations, some from corporations and individuals.
“The idea was to encourage people to want to live on the river,” he says. “And if the bottom hadn’t fallen out of the economy in 2008, that probably would have already happened. There were a few projects that had been announced. But when the bottom fell out, people couldn’t sell their homes, so they couldn’t buy.
“Now there’s a huge pent-up demand for downtown living. All the loft space here is taken. So the likelihood is that in the next couple of years, you’re going to see some significant high-rise residential and mixed-use developments. We’re working to help facilitate that.”
Asked when the riverfront will be fully developed, Page says, “I think by 2020, our riverfront, which has already been transformed, will realize its full potential to the east, and we’ll be well on our way to significant progress on the west.
“There are still hurdles to overcome, but as several people have said, this is the most successful public-private partnership that has ever been seen in this state. We’ve had full cooperation of the state, the governor’s office, the county executive and commission, the city council and mayor, and the philanthropic community.”
Meanwhile, fundraising continues, and Page leads that effort. Asked if he has any thoughts of retirement, he says, “I was at the barbershop this morning and my friend Michael George said when people ask him when he’s going to retire, he says, ‘You can come to my retirement party, which will be at the funeral home.’
“I guess I have that same philosophy.”
By Allan Nahajewski