Splash pad may replace derelict Belle Isle water slide

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — A new splash pad could be in store for Belle Isle, replacing a derelict water slide that’s been shuttered for several years.

The Gray, Hardwick and Phelps families play on the beach Friday in front of the closed water slide on Belle Isle. A new splash pad could be in store, replacing the water slide that’s been shuttered for several years.

The Belle Isle Conservancy hired a consultant in recent weeks to work on a design for the project that’s expected to cost about $1 million.

Conservancy President Michele Hodges said the nonprofit has raised about $200,000 in the last several years to fund the planning process. Community input sessions for the proposed “Belle Isle Splash Pad” will take place from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday at the island’s Flynn Pavilion and 6-8 p.m. July 25 at the Belle Isle Nature Center.

The group, she said, welcomes any helping hands who want to kick in funding to bring the plan to fruition.

“It’s a pretty heavy lift from a fundraising standpoint,” Hodges said. “The more the community can rally together and we can leverage every bucket of funding, the better.”

The water slide, which is near the Belle Isle beach, was likely built in the 1990s and last used in 2013 as the city was in the midst of its financial crisis, said Ron Olson, parks and recreation division chief for the state Department of Natural Resources.

The island has been under state control since Feb. 10, 2014, under a 30-year lease agreement reached during Detroit’s landmark bankruptcy.

The water slide, which is near the Belle Isle beach, was likely built in the 1990s and last used in 2013 as the city was in the midst of its financial crisis, said Ron Olson, parks and recreation division chief for the state Department of Natural Resources.

Hodges said the slide is expected to be razed and officials will start anew with the splash pad. The location of Belle Isle’s splash pad is still being determined, although Olson said officials are considering the west side of the beach house.

“We want to have a safe, modern facility and that (slide) does not meet expectations,” Hodges said. “It’s too expensive to maintain and insure, quite honestly.”

Olson said the city had been paying more than $100,000 annually to operate and staff the hulking water side with lifeguards. It typically was open from late June to late August, he said.

After the state assumed its lease, officials evaluated whether the slide could be repaired, which Olson said would have cost about $100,000. The slide hadn’t been winterized, it was structurally unsafe and all of the pumps and valves were broken, he said.

Olson said that the city originally added the slide as an affordable way to enhance recreation on the island without making a huge investment. Detroit charged a nominal fee to use the slide, because it was required to staff it with lifeguards, he said.

It was determined that scrapping the outdated slide in favor of a more family-friendly splash pad was the way to go. The city’s Parks & Recreation Department already has given the state its approval to take down the slide, Olson added.

“We thought that (a splash pad) would be a great way to transition from having basically nothing or spending a lot of money on a slide ... to a spray park with different features that could be expanded on,” he said.

Olson said there’s no timetable on when the splash pad will be installed since the plan is in the early phases. Officials don’t expect to charge for use of the water park.

Council President Pro Tem George Cushingberry Jr. said he wants Wayne County to help fund new water features on the island.

In a two-minute video, put together by his office, Cushingberry appears on the island in front of the slide, urging constituents to call the county to ask that Wayne County parks millage funds be allocated for the project.

“The plan is to tear this one down and we ask Wayne County executive and the county board of commissioners to use the funds we voted for to build a water park on Belle Isle ...,” Cushingberry said in the video.

Olson said the DNR has not explored the possibility of using millage funding for the project.

James Martinez, a spokesman for Evans, said Friday the county administration hasn’t been engaged by Detroit’s council or involved with the project.

“We’re always happy to explore opportunities for collaboration but haven’t had any discussions on this project,” Martinez said in an email.

The Wayne County parks millage first passed in 1996 and pays for the operation of county recreation facilities such as Hines Park, Elizabeth Park and Chandler Park in Detroit as well as some municipal parks in the county’s 43 communities.

The first major project that used parks millage money was the Wayne County Parks Family Aquatic Center. The center, in Chandler Park, is operated by the county with funding from the county parks millage. The park is owned by the city of Detroit.

On Friday, northwest Detroit resident Roger Brown was the only visitor on the Belle Isle beach who was near the fenced-off water slide, which stands abandoned. A pool nearly 4 feet deep sits at its base, full of murky water and litter.

“As I can remember, it wasn’t used like it should have been when it was up. The percentage was kind of mediocre,” said Brown, 59. “When it first opened up, it was kind of popular, then the crowds kind of started dwindling down.”

Kelli Gray, 31, of Wayne, said she’s wondered every time she visits the beach why the slide isn’t open. She was pleased to hear that a new water feature is planned to replace it.

“If you are not going to have the water slide open and functional, take it down and put something worth being there,” Gray said Friday while on the beach with three of her children, ages 14, 11 and 9, as well as some friends. “The splash pad would get used, especially for the little ones.”