As a state park, Belle Isle will regain its stature as one of Detroit's jewels, while saving the city money it doesn't have. (Ricardo Thomas / The Detroit News)
The Detroit City Council says it’s enamored with Belle Isle and considers it one of the city’s most prized jewels. Yet the council wasn’t willing to do what’s best for this noted Detroit gem — or for the city’s bottom line. So thanks to the governor for resurrecting his offer to turn the island into a state park.
Now that Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr is up and running, Gov. Rick Snyder felt confident to try again. In January, the City Council shot down the state’s offer to run Belle Isle as a state park and invest millions into refurbishing its grounds and storied buildings.
Now it’s likely a done deal.
Snyder has worked with transportation and natural resources directors and Orr to come up with a proposal to lease Belle Isle for 30 years and the possibility of two 15-year extensions. After Jan. 1, 2014, Belle Isle would be treated like any other state park, with visitors required to have the $11 annual Recreation Passport. But it wouldn’t cost anything to walk or bike onto the island.
This isn’t some malevolent scheme to steal away one of Detroit’s jewels. Snyder and his team are trying to help. Period. And the resistance still seeping from City Council shows how necessary it was for an emergency manager.
Snyder is avid preserving Belle Isle.
“One way to revitalize Detroit is by revitalizing Belle Isle. This state-city partnership will provide a clean, safe park environment and enhance Belle Isle for citizens while still allowing the city to retain ownership of one of its jewels,” he said in a statement.
Mayor Dave Bing also supports the move, as he did earlier this year. And a Detroit News poll last fall showed 66 percent of Detroiters supported the state park proposal.
But that isn’t stopping the same council members who said “no way” before from making just as big a fuss now. It just means much less.
Take for instance Councilwoman JoAnn Watson’s remarks.
“It’s an absolute treasure, and Belle Isle is ours,” Watson said after the announcement. “It flies in the face of all the public pronouncements of the state trying to help the city. It sounds like a rape to me.”
The council can’t move beyond its desire to maintain the status quo, even in the face of financial disaster.
Whether council members like Watson will ever admit it (they won’t), leasing the island and running it as a state park is good for both residents who enjoy Belle Isle and for Detroit’s budget.
The lease should save Detroit between $4 and $6 million each year. And the state plans to seek grants that would infuse additional funds into the park’s facilities. The Belle Isle Conservancy, which has invested $2 million into the island, supports the lease.
City Council members do have some say in this. They have a chance to approve the lease or offer an alternative that would save the city the same amount. If they don’t act within 10 days, though, Orr has the power to move forward.
There’s not much doubt the lease will take effect. That’s a good thing for this Detroit jewel.