Detroit's Belle Isle State Park Plan is Dead

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January 29, 2013 by   - () Leave a Comment

Belle Isle is located just east of Detroit.

The state of Michigan has said it will withdraw its offer to lease Detroit's Belle Isle as a state park, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) expected a decision on the proposal that would let the state agency operate the city's island park for 30 years with two optional 30-year extensions by the end of January. A vote on the plan was tabled by the Detroit City Council Tuesday (Jan. 29), and they were not expected to return to the matter until February.

“As we stated in the past, the end of January is a crucial time for the DNR to be able to effectively plan and marshal resources for this season,” Gov. Rick Snyder spokesman Caleb Buhs told the Free Press. “The governor was hopeful that this would be a partnership that would allow the island to return to its former status as one of the best parks in the nation.”

A contentious vote to lease the city's island park out as a state park managed by the DNR had been scheduled for Tuesday. But the council's Neighborhood and Community Services Committee decided Monday to table the issue for another two weeks. Committee members Kwame Kenyatta and Joanne Watson outvoted third member James Tate.

"As a committee, we've asked for an additional two weeks. I don't mess around with anyone else's committee," Kenyatta said Tuesday. "So, if you have the votes to approve this, then fine. But history will be on our side."

Tate responded that he respected committee process, but said that the issue had "been floating for far too long."

A supermajority of six council members could have put the vote back up for discussion Tuesday, but members voted 6-3 not to bring the issue up as new business on the day's agenda. Only Tate, Saunteel Jenkins and Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown voted in favor of putting the state lease up for a vote. Earlier in the meeting, the council voted 5-4 to take the issue out of committee, so they could consider putting it on the agenda.

Under the deal, the DNR would have managed operations and expenses for the park for 30 years, with two optional 30-year renewals. Pedestrians and bicyclists would be able to access Belle Isle for free, but those driving motor vehicles would have to purchase an $11 pass good for all state parks. The statewide Recreation Passport fee was raised a dollar for 2013.

Backers have said the plan would save Detroit $277 million over 30 years, but some council members have expressed skepticism about the plan.

During a brief discussion on the lease, Jenkins noted that the leasing agreement had been amended to encourage the hiring of Detroit residents for work on the island. In turn, her colleague JoAnn Watson expressed reservations about the deal.

"You don't give this one up," she said. "It's not related to the deficit. It has relations to people in high places who want a playground for the rich in the center of Detroit."

Council Member Ken Cockrel voiced concern that the Belle Isle issue was overshadowing more important matters.

"We need to bring the focus back to where it belongs," he said. "The reality is, if we fix the city's finances, Belle Isle will fix itself. Then we don't have to entertain the idea of making it a state park."

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