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Council warns Bing: Belle Isle plan dead without major changes

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Without major changes, it looks like the proposal to turn Detroit’s Belle Isle into a state park doesn’t have a shot with the Detroit City Council.

City Council members blasted the proposal at a meeting Tuesday, calling it, among other things, “ridiculous” and “terrible.”

Mayor Dave Bing and Governor Snyder outlined the plan last week. It calls for the city to lease Belle Isle to the state for 30 years. In return, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources would maintain the island. The state would also make some as-yet-unspecified major upgrades.

Most Council members say their main problem is the proposal’s lack of specifics.

James Tate was the Council’s leading voice for some kind of state partnership on Belle Isle. But Tate said the proposal, as it stands, is “very flawed” and “rife with a lack of detail.”

“I think it’s ridiculous for us to be asked to vote, or even consider, a document that’s so incomplete,” Tate said.

“At this moment, I’m an absolute no. What we have in front of us is way beyond disrespect. It’s stupid.”

Council member Saunteel Jenkins agreed.

“There have to be guarantees about any improvements that are being presented,” Jenkins said. “It has to be in writing that the state will actually make those improvements.”

Jenkins said Council is just trying to do its duty and vet the plan before voting on it. She and other Council members also complained that the Mayor and Governor and had set them up to look like obstructionists.

A Monday meeting between Council and administration officials to discuss the issue was cancelled.

Folding Belle Isle into the state parks system was a provision included in an annex to Detroit’s consent agreement with the state. It doesn’t include details about how to the plan would need to be approved or implemented.

Despite the opposition, Bing and Snyder both promise to forge ahead.

“We’ve presented a proposed lease agreement to improve Belle Isle,” Bing responded in a written statement. “It’s unfortunate the Council is reluctant to move forward, but my administration remains open to discussing the lease agreement and to hearing their, hopefully, constructive input and recommendations.”

Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for Governor Snyder, echoed that.

“We look forward to being able to discuss and work through all the details with the council and address their questions and concerns,” Wurfel wrote in an email.

“While it’s incredibly difficult to get into specifics at this point in time and in the process, the proposed lease gives clear guidance that Belle Isle is [to be] maintained and operated to the standards of Michigan state parks, many of which are recognized as some of the finest in the country.” 

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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