Covered in green and surrounded by the slow, flowing waters of the Detroit River, the 975-acre Belle Isle is perhaps Michigan’s best-known park not run by the state.
The Associated Press reported that Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Gov. Rick Snyder want to change that, but their plan to turn Belle Isle into Michigan’s 102nd state park has met resistance from some officials with the cash-strapped city.
City Council members chastised the Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials this week for not bringing enough details to the negotiating table about the proposed lease, which would start at 30 years but could span as long as 90. Besides the terms of the lease, they are concerned about who would pay for much-needed repairs and maintenance.
“We will be meeting individually with council members to get their ideas of how the lease should go,” said Bruce Ross, head of field operations for state DNR parks and recreation. “The council definitely was passionate. Everyone cares about Belle Isle. They want to be included.”
Working with the state may be the last real option the city has for improving what some call a Detroit “jewel.”
Even with Bing trimming away at a budget deficit topping $200 million and a 10% pay cut forced on police and other city workers, Detroit simply does not have the money to do more than cut the grass and keep Belle Isle reasonably clean. Leasing it to the state will save the city $6 million annually.
“My administration strongly believes the state park structure is the best option for managing and maintaining Belle Isle,” Bing said Wednesday (Sept. 26) in a statement. “I would hope that the members of City Council have the same commitment that I have to improve Belle Isle and therefore improve the quality of life for all of our citizens.”
Councilman Kwame Kenyatta said the state can do more than it has proposed.
“If the purpose of such an agreement is to assist the city in overcoming its severe fiscal challenges, why not compose a lease that covers only the years of those hardships?” Kenyatta said in a statement. “Just the initial 30 years alone of this lease will ensure that many residents never again witness the day that their city gem is operated by the municipality that they have long supported and lived in.”