Warm Saturday nights on Belle Isle used to mean an island-wide, anything-goes party, with booze flowing, music blasting and vehicles lurching along bumper to bumper.
That was last summer. This year, with the conversion of Belle Isle to a state park and troopers sending a forceful message that the party’s over, the island is relatively peaceful on weekend evenings.
But the displaced teens and young adults didn’t disappear. They’re going somewhere else, notably to downtown Detroit, where they’ve triggered alarm among those who are investing and working to make the central city the region’s destination hot spot.
Groups of young people are suddenly roaming the streets, doing what kids too often do — being loud and obnoxious, swearing, fighting and generally making it uncomfortable for people who come downtown for dining and entertainment. Last Saturday, a ridiculous dust-up at a Chene Park rap concert briefly turned the RiverWalk into a battleground.
Those with a stake in downtown understand how fragile its comeback remains. There’s no greater threat than the perception the streets are not safe.
“We understand that,” says Harold Love, the retired Michigan State Police captain who was hired last fall as director of security for the Downtown Detroit Partnership. “With the compliance atmosphere now established on Belle Isle, the crowds are moving. It’s a party crowd, a hang-out crowd, and a lot of it is not appropriate for downtown.”
Love says the various downtown security agencies were caught off-guard by the flood of teens this summer. But he says they are aggressively responding.
“We are following a strategy of changing inappropriate behavior,” he says.
That means strict curfew and parking law enforcement and a greater police presence. After the business community met last fall with Detroit Police Chief James Craig, more resources were shifted downtown.
Along with Detroit cops, the riverfront and downtown are also policed to varying degrees by the state police, Wayne County sheriff, U.S. Customs and private security officers from Quicken Loans, General Motors and other corporations.
The RiverWalk has its own officers, and has nearly every inch of the walkway under video surveillance. The cameras help head off trouble and are speeding arrests when crimes do occur. Several graffiti vandals, for example, have been picked up in the act thanks to the cameras. Downtown, Love says, is “absolutely safe.” He promises it will stay that way.
It isn’t about harassing kids. Belle Isle served as a catch basin for rowdies and revelers, and most people didn’t notice, because they knew enough not to visit the island on a summer Saturday night. Downtown is different. Its success depends on providing a high level of comfort and security to visitors.
And nobody feels comfortable strolling streets filled with rude and raucous kids.
Follow Nolan Finley at detroitnews.com/finley, on Twitter at nolanfinleydn, on Facebook at nolanfinleydetnews and watch him at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on “MiWeek” on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56.