October 10, 2012 at 11:27 am

Detroiters strongly back Belle Isle lease

Detroit — More than 66 percent of Detroit residents favor a deal by Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing to turn Belle Isle into a state park, according to a Detroit News poll.

Despite heated criticism of the proposal at City Council meetings, nearly 51 percent of 800 Detroiters polled said they strongly approve of a deal to lease the island to the state, with the city retaining ownership. Another 15.5 percent said they somewhat approved the deal.

The endorsement comes despite low marks for Snyder and Bing's handling of the city's fiscal crisis overall. More than 74 percent oppose Snyder's handling of Detroit's fiscal problems, and 81 percent don't want Bing to seek re-election, the poll shows. But respondents said they see value in state involvement in Belle Isle.

"I think it would be better for the people," poll respondent Kimberly Addy said of the proposed lease. Addy, 39, works as a baby sitter and lives on the city's west side. "They'll fix it up so it'll look real nice.

"More people would probably come down there if they do more repairs to it."

The proposed lease is stalled in the City Council over a litany of concerns, including the length of the 30-year term and a lack of financial details, particularly how much the state plans to invest in improvements.

Under the plan, visitors would be required to purchase an annual $10 vehicle pass good for all state parks.

Addy doesn't visit Belle Isle much anymore, but said "I used to love" the island and hopes to see it restored. Her one reservation, she said, is the proposed length of the lease.

"That's a long time," she said. "I agree with 10 years, but 30 is too long."

The poll found opposition to the plan, too, reflecting residents' strong feelings about what many regard as a city jewel.

Almost 24 percent of the respondents said they strongly disapprove, and 5.3 somewhat disapproved of the proposed agreement.

Retiree Violet Smith, 62, who lives on the east side, said the city shouldn't pursue the lease. She said she strongly disagrees with state involvement in Belle Isle.

"The city should be doing their own collecting and charging fees for cars," said Smith, who was a city bus driver for 30 years. "Then you leave that money to keep that park together. You don't need the state for that."

Smith said she believes city residents — who have opposed fees for Belle Isle entry for decades — "would be more receptive to the idea of the city collecting a fee" now.

"If you don't want to pay the $3 or $ 4 per car, don't come over here, simple as that," she said.

The poll, conducted on Sept. 22-25 by the Chicago-based Glengariff Group Inc., sampled 800 Detroit residents by telephone. Funded by the Thompson Foundation, the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. It targeted random city residents, not necessarily likely voters.

Last month, Bing and Snyder announced they had a tentative deal — pending council approval — for the state to lease and operate Belle Isle, making it a state park.

But the lease proposal has been criticized by the nine-member council.

Just last week, a committee of council members said they have too many questions about the proposal and concluded they are not ready to forward the plan to the full board for a vote.

Councilman Andre Spivey said he's not surprised the poll showed residents support the agreement. Calls to his office have been split, 50-50, he said.

"Overall, I am in favor of getting some assistance for Belle Isle park," Spivey said. "But I agree — and my colleague Ken Cockrel said it first — is this a priority right NOW for the city, for the state, knowing that we're trying to get out of a major financial deficit here?"

Poll respondent Herman Bell said he "somewhat disapproved" of the lease because the city is in a dispute with the state over repayment of revenue-sharing funds.

"If the state would pay the money they owe us, the city could fix up the park itself without having to charge each person to go through there," said Bell, 44, who took a buyout from Chrysler.

The length of the lease is a problem for him, he added. "I would probably go for it if it's 10 years," Bell said.

Cecil Coston, 74, a retired high school coach who lives on the west side, said he "somewhat approved" of the lease agreement because he'd like to see Belle Isle improved.

But Coston said he has a fundamental problem with the state being involved in city affairs.

"It's sad to say we need help," Coston said of the lease deal. "If we can get it from the state in the proper way, fine. If we can get it from the state, but the state plans to take over? No."

Like other respondents, Coston said a shorter lease term is key: "It's a world of a difference between 10 and 30 (years)," he said.

lfleming@detnews.com

(313) 222-2072

About this poll

This report is based on an 800-sample survey of Detroit residents and conducted by Chicago-based Glengariff Group Inc. The live operator telephone survey was conducted on Sept. 22-25, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Among the respondents, 35 percent were contacted by cellphone and 65 percent were contacted by land line.
This survey was commissioned by The Detroit News and funded by the Thompson Foundation.
The Thompson Foundation
Bob and Ellen Thompson founded the Thompson Foundation in 1999 with $100 million from the sale of the Thompson-McCully Co. The foundation’s mission is to help low-income people rise out of poverty and become self-sufficient.
According to its website, the foundation has:
Established 1,000 Detroit private school scholarships for Detroit inner city kids, and for students at Schoolcraft Junior College in Livonia, Michigan Tech University and Michigan State University;
Granted funds to food banks, guidance centers and job placement and training facilities.
The vast majority of its funds are used to serve those who live in Detroit, Highland Park and Hamtramck.

Age

18-2922.0%
30-3916.9%
40-4921.4%
50-6426.3%
65 and older12.8%
Don't Know/Refused0.8%

Union membership

Yes, union household32.8%
No, not union household66.3%
Don't Know/Refused1.0%

Race or ethnic background

Caucasian11.0%
African-American81.8%
Hispanic/Puerto Rican/Mexican American1.4%
Asian0.0%
Mixed Race1.5%
Native American0.8%
Don't Know/Refused3.6%

Education

Did not graduate from high school5.4%
High School graduate/ GED27.8%
Community college1.4%
Technical school1.8%
Some college22.3%
College graduate29.6%
Post graduate9.5%
Other/Don't know/ Refused2.4%

Household Income

$0-$15,00014.8%
$15,000-$30,00018.9%
$30,000-$50,00019.4%
$50,000-$75,00014.1%
$75,000-$100,0006.5%
Over $100,0006.6%
Don't Know/Refused19.8%

Gender

Male47.4%
Female52.6%

Telephone

Cellphone35.0%
Land line65.0%

A Detroit News poll revealed nearly 51 percent of Detroiters strongly approve of a proposal to lease Belle Isle to the state. Many say they believe the plan would result in needed improvements and draw more visitors. / Daniel Mears / The Detroit News
Detroit City Council member JoAnn Watson speaks with supporters in August ... (Steve Perez / The Detroit News)