muckraker report

Birmingham developer offers plan to buy Belle Isle for $1 billion, secede from Michigan

Prominent Republicans in Michigan will gather soon to hear a plan for investors to buy Belle Isle from the city of Detroit for $1 billion and turn the island park into a semi-independent city-state of 35,000 people with its own laws, government and currency.

Never mind that the proposed libertarian experiment, supported by prominent free-enterprise supporters like the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, retired Chrysler President Al Sperlich and Clark Durant, co-founder of Detroit’s Cornerstone Schools, likely will go nowhere.

The sale of Belle Isle requires the approval of Mayor Dave Bing and Detroit City Council and neither would give the proposal a serious look. It’s also very unlikely the island could secede from Michigan.

In fact, the plan smacks of antagonism and divisiveness at a time when the city is shedding vital services to avoid bankruptcy.

Many Detroiters already are distrustful of outsiders and couldn’t imagine selling their environmental treasure to anyone – especially wealthy investors bent on making a political statement.  The 982-acre park also has a long history of racial inclusion and serving as a free getaway from city life.

Behind the plan is Birmingham developer Rodney Lockwood Jr., who recently published a book on the subject and served as chairman of the Board of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

“Big changes take big ideas, power arising from noble intent, and leaders of great vision and courage,” Lockwood wrote. “It happened before with the birth of America. It can happen again.”

Lockwood envisions a “social laboratory for the western world” in 3o years.

“People soon came from all over the world to be part of this culture of unlimited opportunity,” Lockwood wrote. “Belle Isle became the ‘Midwest Tiger,’ rivaling Singapore as an economic miracle.  Although numbering only 35,000 citizens, it generated billions of dollars in desperately needed economic growth.”

Surprisingly, the plan has attracted some Detroit entrepreneurs, including Larry Mongo, owner of Cafe D’Mongo Speakeasy in Detroit

“Change requires us to think differently,” Mongo said. “Detroit has been changed by Cadillac, Woodward and Henry Ford in the past. Rod Lockwood’s vision and passion for Detroit and its citizens is the change we need for the future. I hope the people who decide will see the vision for what it is — finally real freedom and opportunity for us Detroiters, the chance of a lifetime to let us share in the American Dream. And we need it now.”

Blogger Steve Dibert writes that the plan is an elaborate ruse based on the fictional dystopia created by philosopher and writer Ayn Rand.

“What Lockwood and his boosters don’t come out and say is that they want to turn Belle Isle into is an Americanized version of the British tax havens of Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man, which are known to be havens for tax cheats and money launderers,” Dibert added.

Belle Isle is a sensitive topic. Late last year, Mayor Dave Bing and Gov. Rick Snyder reached a tentative agreement to lease the park to the state Department of Natural Resources for 30 years. City Council quickly rejected the plan, saying there was no guarantee that Belle Isle would be maintained, policed and properly funded.

Many Detroiters opposed the plan, saying the city should maintain control of one of its most treasured assets.

“This is just stupid,” Detroiter Alan Nash, who often visits Belle Isle, said Saturday. “What are they trying to prove – that they can flash their money and buy whatever they? Not going to happen.”

Got tips or suggestions? Contact Steve at

Steve Neavling is an investigative journalist and former city hall reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Living on the city’s east side, Neavling explores corruption, civil liberties and the underbelly of an oft-misunderstood city.

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for daily updates, investigations and photos of Detroit.

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.

  • Pingback: xcmwnv54ec8tnv5cev5jfdcnv5()

  • Pingback: ccn2785xdnwdc5bwedsj4wsndb()

  • cole

    how would this benefit Detroit, do anyone believe that a ayn rand controlled entity that they say would generate billions of dollars in revenue, be shared with a separate city of Detroit, they would block all money to Detroit and Michigan this would be stupid if they want some property to buy Detroit is full of property but that’s the problem for them they would have to do the hard work and try and get into the city council and mayors office to affect the change they want, so for them its just best to buy your own island with your own rules and believe me Detroit would not see a dime of that money, or should I say illegal money because it would be a tax haven to cheat paying taxes.

  • Terra Magnum Imperium

    What happened to the 50 social laboratories we used to call states?

  • Omni

    First, Belle Isle, and soon enough we’ll have a Detroit Deluxe on our hands…

  • Julian Robespierre

    Ditto to Mitch. Definitely would be different if the person was Muslim. Perhaps Lockwood might consider converting to Islam?

  • Michael Martin

    I love this idea so much!!!!

  • Pingback: Developer Offers Plan To Buy Belle Isle For $1 Billion, Secede From Michigan | CAV NEWS()

  • Pingback: Developer Offers Plan to Buy Belle Isle for $1 Billion, Secede from Michigan | Thought FTW()

  • Derek Johnson

    I suspect that this is indeed inspired by Ayn Rand, but like it or not, money and individuals will find a way to flee the US as the weight of the collective bankster / demonRat / republicOn debt and currency devaluation crushes us all. At least this is close and would offer a convenient place to hide.

  • Pingback: Birmingham developer offers plan to buy Belle Isle for $1 billion ‹ Oregon Hill()

  • Pingback: U.S. Devaluation Doodles | UrbanSurvival()

  • cattgirl0813

    When I heard about what Mr. Lockwood and his buddies were proposing, all I could think of was a sample from one of my favorite songs: “And many of us, by the way we act, we have even lost our minds.”

  • fuzzytek

    Anyone interested in preserving nature and endangered species should be outraged. This post on Free Detroit brings a video forward that documents the untapped splendor of the island.

    When a hearing regarding Belle Isle was held we heard that DNR and MDOT were going to take control of operating the island. MDOT was saying they would turn trunkline funding for transportation on the island. That immediately sent my thoughts to condominium developments and private gated spaces and potentially skyscrapers rising on Belle Isle.

    This notion of purchase and seceding from the city, and state will be an interesting battle to be seen.

    • Steve Neavling

      Thanks a lot for sharing. Great post.

  • Eric

    Social issues aside, this shouldn’t happen because it’s an Olmstead park.

  • Steve Dibert

    Glad you picked up on this, Steve. In my opinion, they want to use Belle Isle as nothing more than a tax haven for corporate welfare recipients and money launderers.

    Someone needs to tell Lockwood that its not a good idea to dress in black when doing a promo. It makes him like Lord Voldermort or Emperor Palpatine.

    • Steve Neavling

      Glad you let me know about this. What a strange way to antagonize people. Thanks much.

  • Michael Douglas Cosgrove

    35k people living on Belle Isle? What the hell is he smoking? 20k cars on Belle Isle…where would they park them all?

    That alone without all the other issues raised in the article should say this is a pipedream.

    • Marco

      Maybe, Public Trans… Come on, you ever play SimCity?

  • Christopher Rochon

    no way! so no Detroit

  • Tom Barrow

    Only a “Dolt” would even have the nerve to propose what’s in this article to the people of Detroit. This is a further attempt to diminish us and take a city asset by wealthy Michigan Chamber and Mackinac Policy Center opportunists who have only contempt for the people of Detroit. City residents would be wise to watch behind whom these people slang their money later this year in our mayor and council races as they must have a Mayor who will see this as good for us people down here. I am hopeful that Detroiters will wisely “elect” and not permit our broken election system to “select” a true post Bing era Mayor. I am hopeful that it will be someone who is strong as tempered steel and have an unquestionable commitment to us. It must not be a political carpetbagger who, by definition, will be beholding only to himself and his financial backers but who would be essential to bring this insulting proposal to fruition. Be wise Detroit… be alert Detroit and send back a message that we are not going to fall for the okey doke.

    • Kim Craig

      This is a travesty. This an example of the Them vs. Us political postering that has always gone on in the city of Detroit. If the people who have stayed throughout the struggle allow the outsiders to come in “now” and takeover; shame on us!

    • Mitch

      Detroit is rolling in money so much it can afford to keep a park while laying off police and fire fighters.
      wake up Detroit or keep losing even more home owners, jobs and part of the soul of your area.
      Bad decisions were made by your leaders and now tough choices remain.
      This new proposal will create jobs and bring some prosperity to a area that otherwise will house homeless people living on city property in tents.
      If the buyers were muslim I’d bet there would be overwhelming support in sharia happy Detroit.