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Belle Isle plan moves to a vote, but faces resistance

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It appears that a plan to turn Detroit’s Belle Isle into a state park will be voted on next week. But it’s far from clear how that vote will turn out.

The plan calls for the state to lease Belle Isle from Detroit for 30 years, and have the Michigan Department of Natural Resources manage it as a state park.

The idea is attractive to some because it would open up a bigger pot of money to improve the island—and relieve the city of $6 million a year in maintenance costs.

But some think the plan amounts to Detroit “giving away” a valuable asset.

And some, like Council member Kwame Kenyatta, think giving the state control of the park would be a huge psychological blow to the city.

“You’re not gonna break the bank,” Kenyatta said. “But you’re gonna break the spirits of the people of this city. You’re gonna break the hearts of the people of this city.”

It’s not clear whether the plan has the support of a majority of Council members. Council President Charles Pugh, who might be the deciding vote, says he’s still undecided.

Council member James Tate supports the idea—but wanted to see some changes made to the lease terms.

Tate says they’ve negotiated some changes to the state’s initial offer, including a provision allowing the state or city to opt out of the lease at 10-year intervals.

“To be able to opt out in ten years…for the next mayor, the next Council, and Governor--I think is huge,” said Tate. “That was extremely important, to be able to drop it down from initially 90, to 30, to essentially 10.”

“Is there some more push and pull that can take place? Absolutely. But I think what we have right now is the framework for something that could potentially work for the city of Detroit.”

The proposal moved out of Tate’s Neighborhood and Community Services committee with a recommendation to reject. Tate supported it, but fellow committee members Kenyatta and JoAnn Watson did not.

The Council is set to vote on the deal Tuesday. A public hearing is scheduled for Monday.

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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