Fishing piers, shelters among Belle Isle fixes in 2016

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — After two years under state control, Belle Isle has seen nearly $20 million in investments, state parks officials said Tuesday.

In the 2016 fiscal year, the Department of Natural Resources will invest $1.25 million more in capital projects on the 982-acre island in addition to $1.8 million in grants and investments by partners.

“We all knew that when we got into this there would be a lot of improvements to be made,” Ron Olson, chief of parks and recreation for the DNR, said after an annual briefing before Detroit’s City Council.

The state this year plans to introduce a recycling program, start a Detroit Department of Transportation bus route and get sponsorship help from the Chevrolet Belle Isle Grand Prix.

Structural repairs to the island’s casino and White House and renovations of the athletic fields and courts also are planned. Fishing piers will be upgraded and seven of the island’s worst picnic shelters will be fixed, officials said.

Olson said officials had set out with a plan to invest $10 million to $20 million within the first three years of its 30-year lease for the island. About 60 percent of the dollars invested during the first two years have gone into infrastructure. The state, he said, also worked to win grants and work with funding partners and volunteers to improve the the park.

The state assumed its lease of the island Feb. 10, 2014, under an agreement reached by Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit’s former emergency manager, Kevyn Orr.

Under state management, the island has undergone aesthetic changes. Workers have focused attention on restoring picnic tables, chipping hazardous trees, reforesting and revamping bathrooms. Upgrades on the west end of the island have featured wider bike paths and trails and more parking.

At the same time, the Belle Isle Conservancy has focused on strategic planning and a cultural plan centered on the island’s aquarium and conservancy.

In the 2015 fiscal year, $8 million was invested in the park — more than half, or $4.8 million, came from the state, according to Olson’s presentation.

Belle Isle also received $1.4 million in grants for the state Department of Natural Resources’ capital improvement projects. Additionally, $1.35 million came from the Belle Isle Conservancy, and volunteer hours provided a monetary value of about $347,000, officials said.

Among the changes are lamp replacements on the MacArthur Bridge, a $20,000 investment in play equipment for Kid’s Row, improvements for 13 restrooms, boat and kayak launches, a new visitor station, water main repairs and road improvements.

The island is also home to the annual Grand Prix, which generates about $60 million to $70 million annually for the local economy and last year drew about 65,000 fans over the three-day event.

Council member Raquel Castaneda Lopez stressed the importance of accessibility during the Grand Prix, noting the duration of associated road closures in a significant area of the island.

“I think we can have large-scale events, but how do you make sure that the park is open and the duration of time that those events happen is shortened,” she said.

Olson said he knows that some have concerns about the closures and other activity that takes place during the annual race festivities. The Grand Prix agreement runs through 2018 and preceded the state’s lease. The set up begins seven weeks prior. The road closures will take place only two weeks before.

“Great cities have great events and you do have iconic events,” Olson said. “The trade off on Belle Isle is it does disrupt use of the park to do that. But if it’s kept in balance and done properly ... it’s a good thing for the greater community.”

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Art fair scheduled

An art fair is planned this summer on Belle Isle.

Organizers say more than 80 artists will display their works Aug. 6-7 at the juried fair near the James Scott Memorial Fountain.

Artists are invited to apply to participate in the event. Details are posted on the website for the Belle Isle Art Fair.