Council: No way are we leasing Belle Isle unless guarantees made

Detroit City Council refused – again – to vote on a lease that would hand over control of Belle Isle to the state for 30 years, saying there are no guarantees to improve the island park.

“I need to see guarantees that this will be good for people who live here and people who use the park,” Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins said to applause from the crowd. “There are so many things to address that aren’t in the lease.”

The state and Mayor’s Office failed to convince the council to approve the lease, which would have added at least $1.6 million to maintain the park.

Park users, in exchange, would be charged about $10 a year.

Some council members said they would reconsider the lease if it includes guarantees for improvements and police protection. The state only committed to spending $1.6 million for annual maintenance but couldn’t assure improvements to the park’s bridges, roads, trails and buildings.

Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, however, wanted nothing to do with the lease.

“It’s an insult to the residents of Detroit,” Watson said. “It’s an offense to talk about giving away something because you can’t keep it clean. That’s management.”

Councilman Kwame Kenyatta boycotted the meeting, saying it was a waste of time to consider a lease.

The inability to reach an agreement underscores the dysfunctional relationship between council and Mayor Dave Bing.

Council members said they’re angry that Bing’s office wasn’t more upfront about the deal and questioned why he wanted to hand over the 13.4-mile park without guarantees to improve it.

“If you want to buy a car, you test drive it … and go over all the specs,” Councilman Ken Cockrel Jr. said. “You don’t buy it based on a picture.”

Council President Charles Pugh, who supports a 10-year lease over the 30-year deal proposed by Mayor Dave Bing and Gov. Rick Snyder, cautioned everyone to slow down.

“There is no urgency,” Pugh said. “Belle Isle is not about to sink into the Detroit River.”

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.