Belle Isle's front door illuminated

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
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It was an awesome sight Thursday night: as the sky darkened above and Detroit River rippled below, the MacArthur Bridge leading to Belle Isle suddenly was illuminated with dazzling light.

Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix officials celebrated switching broken, aging lights and fixtures on the bridge with high-efficiency LED technology.

The upgrades were courtesy of a $50,000 donation from Tom Gores, principal owner of the Detroit Pistons and chairman/CEO of Platinum Equity. Through a partnership between the Grand Prix and the global firm he founded, the lights surrounding the lagoon near Scott Fountain also are being replaced.

Those advancements come ahead of the Grand Prix on the Detroit landmark May 29-31.

"It's important that we all work together to help improve safety and the quality of life for people who live and work in Detroit," Gores said in a statement. "Signature events like the Grand Prix help stimulate the local economy and showcase to the world what a great place we have here."

Gores and racing impresario Roger Penske had previously partnered for a program to acquire new emergency vehicles and police cars for the city, officials said.

The idea to replace the Belle Isle lighting came about in the last month, said Bud Denker, chairman of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.

An estimated 384 hours were needed to fully replace the lighting with 76 LED corn lamps of 45 watts each and new acorn-style globes, race officials said.

"Now we've got a gateway to the island that's now beautiful whereas before it was dark," Denker said, adding the lights have a 70,000 hour life expectancy and "put out about one-third less energy costs than we had before. It's sustainable. … It's going to benefit us from a safety standpoint."

As part of the illumination Thursday night, Denker and Dan Whelan, senior vice president at Platinum Equity, crossed the bridge in a Chevrolet Camaro SS 2015 Pace Car while a drone with read, white and blue lights whirred above, filming each run.

Michele Hodges, president of the Belle Isle Conservancy, stood nearby to glimpse the lights against the city's twinkling skyline and the first night stars.

"This is our front door," she said. "It's exciting to witness."

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