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Belle Isle deal dead after Detroit City Council skips vote

Angela Anderson-Cobb

A plan to turn Detroit’s Belle Isle into a state park appears dead.

The Detroit City Council declined to vote on a lease proposal for the island park Tuesday. Now, Governor Snyder’s officer says the state has pulled the offer because the city won’t meet an end-of-the-month deadline.

Caleb Buhs, a spokesman for the Governor’s office, says the deal needed to be finalized by then so the Michigan Department of Natural Resources could make funding and programming arrangements for the upcoming fiscal year.

The idea faced fierce opposition from the get-go.

Some people thought the state lease deal didn’t contain enough specifics, and worried about imposing an $11-a-year entrance fee (the fee covers all state parks) on a traditionally free public space. They also questioned why the state was seeking a 30-year lease for the island.

Others simply opposed the idea of the state running Belle Isle, even though the city would retain ownership.

Council member Kwame Kenyatta was one of those fierce opponents. He says other investors have offered ideas for fixing up the island—but the city hasn’t taken them seriously.

“There are other activities that you can have on Belle Isle, that will generate revenue and create jobs,” Kenyatta said. “And that’s what I’m interested in.”

Proponents of the state park idea argue these “investors” haven’t put forth a viable plan. They say the city can’t afford to make needed investments on Belle Isle—and making it a state park would open up a bigger pot of money to do that, and preserve its historic status as a natural sanctuary in the city.

City Council President Charles Pugh says he’s hopeful the city and state can keep talking about how to best improve the island.

“I hope that Governor Snyder would not go away angry from this, and then not want to partner with us,” Pugh said. “I would love the state to partner, to beautify Belle Isle.

“But not the state as the one running it. I just don’t feel fully comfortable with that.”

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said in a written statement that he’s “extremely disappointed” with the Council’s decision.

“This plan would have provided state funding for the operation, renovation and maintenance of the island as a state park, while we work to stabilize the City’s finances,” Bing said.

"I believe the majority of Detroiters supported this lease agreement.  City Council’s actions today will force us to look at making additional cutbacks that may negatively impact the City’s other parks.”

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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