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Rhetoric heats up over Belle Isle; growing rift between Detroit and Lansing?

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Signs of a widening rift between Detroit and state officials cropped up Tuesday, as rhetoric heated up over what’s going to happen to Detroit’s Belle Isle.

According to news reports, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said he’s rejected the state’s proposed offer to lease Belle Isle for 99 years.

A provision in Detroit’s consent agreement with Lansing provides for creating park funding for Belle Isle, while ensuring continued City ownership by designating  Belle Isle as part of a cooperative state relationship with Milliken State Park” on Detroit’s riverfront.

But according to The Detroit News, Bing was unhappy with the state’s initial offer:

"Bing said earlier today he is rejecting the state's proposal to lease Belle Isle for 99 years but that his administration will continue to negotiate terms that are more favorable to the city. In a wide-ranging discussion today at the Detroit NAACP headquarters in Midtown about the challenges he faces to turn the city around, Bing said he received a letter from the state two weeks ago asking for those terms "without telling me what they're going to invest and upgrade in Belle Isle." "Even if we thought about signing something like that, it's got to come with some conditions," he said. "What are you going to invest? What are you going to fix? … tell us that."

Bing was also critical of Governor Snyder’s plan to send demolition crews, state police and social service workers into targeted Detroit neighborhoods, saying demolition is “our responsibility” and that he doesn’t want state help “imposed on us.”

His remarks come after a Monday meeting between state and city officials to discuss that plan. Less than two weeks ago, Bing praised the idea, saying it showed the state “finally understands what the city really needs.”

The Belle Isle issue is particularly contentious. The Detroit City Council also passed a resolution Tuesday strongly urging Bing to do what he could to “retain local control” over the island park.

Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for Governor Snyder, says it’s understood that any agreement regarding Belle Isle would take cooperation from both Detroit’s Mayor and Council.

“The Governor wants to follow through on the commitment for the state to work in coordination and help support the city in preserving and enhancing Belle Isle,” Wurfel wrote in an email. “This is about working together and finding ways to partner on improving the security and accessibility of the park and helping ensure families can safely enjoy all the park has to offer.”

Both Wurfel and a Bing spokeswoman, Naomi Patton, denied allegations coming from the Council table that, among other things, a lease had already been signed and plans to turn over Belle Isle were imminent.

Patton says the 99-year lease offer from the state was a “starting point,” and the two sides continue to negotiate.

Patton also denied that the Governor and the Mayor are at odds over Snyder’s demolition plan.

“Mayor Bing simply made it clear that he has had a demo plan in place for over two years and as a result the city has considerable expertise in demolition,” Patton said. “The Mayor continues to support the state’s involvement in the administration’s demolition initiative as well as other initiatives like public safety and public lighting.”

“The Mayor and Governor are working together in a coordinated effort to improve public services and transform Detroit.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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