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Detroit City Council rejects Belle Isle lease, offers its own proposal

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

The Detroit City Council has rejected a proposal to lease Belle Isle to the state. But the Council is also putting forth its own, alternative lease deal.

Governor Snyder and emergency manager Kevyn Orr already signed a 30-year lease deal last month.

That deal would let the Michigan Department of Natural Resources run Belle Isle as a state park, saving the city an estimated $6 million a year. The state also promises make up to $20 million worth of upgrades to the island.

The Council unanimously voted that deal down. But a majority offered a revised lease proposal they say has better terms for the city.

“You can’t just say no without having a viable alternative,” said Council member James Tate.

According to Michigan’s emergency manager law, Public Act 436, the Council can make a counter-proposal if it can achieve the same amount of savings. Council members insist this one can.

The counter-proposal would still make Belle Isle a state park, at least temporarily. But instead of a 30-year lease with two 15-year automatic renewals, it would be a 10-year lease with an option to renew.

Council members said the 30-year lease duration was too long.

The revised proposal also makes the state’s failure to meet projected timelines for improvements a breach of the lease. It also makes the state responsible for fees associated with stormwater runoff, which the Council estimates cost the city up to $2.5 million a year.

In general, “this lease is much better,” said Council President Saunteel Jenkins, adding the terms re-enforce that “this is not a sale, it is a lease.”

However, Orr office seems to think the current arrangement is just fine. "Emergency Manager Orr believes the current lease agreement between the City of Detroit and the State of Michigan provides the best framework in which to ensure that Belle Isle regains its luster as one of the city of Detroit's crown jewels,” Orr said in a statement.

A state local emergency financial assistance loan board will have 30 days to review both proposals. According to the emergency manager law, the board “shall approve the proposal that best serves the interest of the public in that local government.”

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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