The sudden appearance of sand in Campus Martius Park this week signifies a new direction for a portion of the prize-winning space: An urban beach.
The sand has nothing to do with volleyball and was in the works for weeks before Dan Gilbert recently announced his long-term vision for a livelier downtown.
Taking a cue from Paris and other cities that have introduced a beach concept in the midst of high-density traffic and buildings, the people who run Campus Martius plan to install a place with a Northern Michigan vibe, complete with a wooden deck, beach furniture, umbrellas, sand sculpture and music.
With the permanent fountain gurgling nearby, visitors will be able to imagine themselves at the edge of a lake Up North, said Bob Gregory, senior vice president with the Downtown Detroit Partnership.
"The idea has been percolating for some time," Gregory said. "We thought, 'Let's try some fun things in Campus Martius around sand. Let's experiment and see what we can do.' We want to celebrate Michigan."
The space, about 5,000 square feet in the park's southeast corner, is next to the Civil War monument and adjacent to space reserved for tables and chairs.
The area will be programmed with different activities, Gregory said, with the possibility of time for children from nearby daycare in the morning and a cocktail hour for adults in the evening. The Fountain Bistro is just steps away.
The area also will be open for general relaxing, like much of the rest of the popular park, which has won national recognition for its design and operations. Gregory said they will keep the beach clean, which was a cocnern voiced by parkgoers interviewed Tuesday.
The Detroit-style beach should be operating by June. No public money is involved.
The Campus Martius sand will accompany numerous upgrades -- from beach volleyball in Grand Circus Park to pedestrian-friendly walks -- planned for the central business district that Gilbert and his companies are working on, along with the Downtown Detroit Partnership.
Gregory acknowledges not everyone will love the concept.
"I can hear them saying, 'Why did you take my park away?'" he said. "We'd like them to wait until they see it in a few weeks with all the greenery of the park on bloom. It's an experiment, and I think they'll like it."
Besides, Gregory adds, they have very high-quality sand.