Help on the way for Belle Isle? Appears so, but it could come at a cost

Some Detroit City Council members are pledging to crush a tentative agreement to lease Belle Isle to the state.

The pact is intended to improve the declining park and reduce the financial burden on the cash-starved city.

The agreement, hammered out between Mayor Dave Bing and Gov. Rick Snyder, calls for the city leasing the park to the state for about 25 years, city officials told Motor City Muckraker this morning.

Trouble is, the deal likely means charging fees to enter a park that has long been free to accommodate financially struggling residents.

Because the park was at the foot of Black Bottom, a predominately African American community that was eventually leveled for so-called urban renewal projects, Belle Isle has become a racial equalizer of sorts.

Some council members said that legacy is at stake with fees, which would discourage many families from going.

Other council members said they may support a deal as long as the lease agreement isn’t for 99 years, as originally planned.

A short lease is impossible, city officials said, because it would prevent the state from borrowing money through bonds to make park improvements.

Councilwoman JoAnn Watson held a rally on the island last month to protest a lease agreement.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.