Detroit, Emergency Managers — October 2, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Detroit Emergency Manager Orr does the right thing: Belle Isle poised to become a state park



All photos by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog

As I wrote back January (has it been that long?), the Detroit City Council set itself up to be the punchline of a bad joke when it rejected an offer by the State of Michigan to make the fabulous Belle Isle our state’s newest state park. However, in his best move so far, Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr signed a lease with the state to do just that. This will save the city millions of dollars a year and infuse $10 million to $20 million of investments in the jewel of Detroit’s park system in the first three years:

The State of Michigan will lease Belle Isle for 30 years, with two optional 15-year renewals, in a deal that will ensure at least $10 million in investments in the island’s aging infrastructure and keeps the park under city ownership, Mayor Dave Bing’s office confirmed this afternoon.

Though both the city and state governments have signed the lease, it’s not a done deal. The agreement, which would save Detroit at least $4 million a year in upkeep, gives the Detroit City Council 10 days to approve the lease and, if not, another seven days to come up with an alternative that would save an equal amount of money. If no such alternative pans out, the deal stands, Gov. Rick Snyder’s office said.

The lease is significantly shorter than an early proposal, which could have extended it to as long as 90 years. The state pledged to invest $10 million to $20 million in upgrades at the 985-acre island park in the first three years of the lease. […]

The state and city also would establish a seven-member advisory committee that would assist the state on planning improvements for the park. The advisory committee would have three representatives appointed by the governor, one appointed by the city council, two appointed by the mayor and a chairman jointly appointed by the governor and mayor. At least three members of the committee must be Detroit residents.

If the deal goes through, it would require a state park pass to enter the island in a vehicle. These passes are a mere $11 per year, allow entry into any state park, and are truly one of the best recreational values you can find in Michigan. People going to Belle Isle on foot, by bike, or by public transportation would be able to continue to do so for free.

There is simply no downside to doing this. Any opposition is simply not credible and makes the Detroit City Council look foolish. To hear some opponents talk, you’d think that Rick Snyder was going to go to Detroit, load Belle Isle on a flat bed truck, and take it back to Lansing with him.

The reality is that, if this goes through, Detroiters will now get to continue enjoying this magnificent park, a true refuge in an urban setting, and will find that it’s better than ever. In the unlikely event that things don’t work out, they have the option of not renewing the lease in the future.

City Council approval of the lease, unfortunately, is not a certainty. Council member JoAnn Watson says it’s like someone is raping her, ridiculous and unnecessary hyperbole that I find offensive:

“There’s nothing about Belle Isle that impacts the bankruptcy petition or the city’s deficit — nothing,” she said at this morning’s council meeting. “And it flies in the face of all the public pronouncements about the state wanting to help the city. We don’t need this kind of help. Seems like a rape to me.”

This statement is as untrue as it is over the top outrageous. This deal will save the city millions of dollars a year in upkeep of the park so it absolutely DOES impact the city’s debt.

Kudos to Mr. Orr and all those responsible for making it happen. Here’s hoping the Detroit City Council sees this for the fabulous deal that it is and takes advantage of it when they vote on the lease next week. It’s good for Michigan and it’s especially good for Detroit.

The Detroit city skyline from Belle Isle