The Spanish-American War Monument on Belle Isle. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
Detroit — State officials on Thursday vowed to city residents and stakeholders of Belle Isle that “we are going to earn your trust” at the first meeting for a newly created advisory committee for the park.
“Trust is built, and it’s earned,” said Keith Creagh, director of the state Department of Natural Resources. “You will find us very transparent and you should hold us accountable.”
Under a 30-year lease agreement, the state will assume operation of the 982-acre island on Feb. 10 when it opens as Michigan’s 102nd state park.
The seven-member Belle Isle Advisory Committee and state officials provided an overview of the lease and a progress report to packed room inside the Detroit Yacht Club.
The committee is tasked with making public safety, master planning and improvement recommendations. The unpaid panel does not hold policy-making powers, but it is empowered to make recommendations to help guide the state.
Belle Isle Conservancy President Michele Hodges, who chairs the committee, said the group will promote inclusiveness, accountability and transparency, as well as trust and respect.
In the meantime, the DNR is in the midst of a 90-day transition on the island. Teams are removing and chipping about 160 diseased and dangerous trees, revamping 100 picnic tables, assessing light poles and working on materials to educate users about the transition, namely the newly required annual $11 recreation passport.
Officials in December touted commitments from more than 40 organizations that have pledged support for the historic island park. Even more have since come forward, said Ron Olson, chief of the Parks and Recreation Division of the DNR.
“It’s going to take a lot of people to make this work,” Olson said.
Earlier this week, city and state officials met with representatives from Vintage Hotels to discuss the company’s $40 million proposal for the dilapidated Detroit Boat Club.
The company, which owns seven hotels in southern Ontario, envisions a project with a 100- to 120-room boutique hotel and several restaurants.
The state Department of Environmental Quality and Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department, he added, will soon meet to discuss storm water management improvements for the island. The DNR is pursuing grant funds for associated studies to determine appropriate options. A pilot project on the island is in progress as well in an effort to identify ways to avoid unnecessary costs.
The state’s safety plan for the island features various modes of patrols including motorcycles, ATV’s, boats, canoes and kayaks. The shift will free up 22 Detroit Police officers who have been assigned to Belle Isle operations.
Committee member the Rev. Lonnie Peek Jr. of Detroit said he’s humbled and honored to serve on the board. “Where Belle Isle is going fits into where Detroit is going,” he said.