Council approves tweaked plan to make Belle Isle a state park

A divided Detroit City Council approved a modified lease with the state today that would give the Department of Natural Resources control over Belle Isle – but for a shorter period.

By a 4-2 vote, the council offered its alternative to a plan proposed by Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and Gov. Rick Snyder.

Now a state-appointed committee is charged with determining which of the two plans are best for reducing Detroit’s deficit.

Some audience members were removed for shouting after the council approved the modified lease. Opponents, including Councilwomen JoAnn Watson and Brenda Jones, said the city should retain management of the park and charge a nominal fee.

Under the state’s plan, residents would be charged $11 annually for admission.

“Belle Isle isn’t just an asset,” Watson said. “It’s a gem; it’s a treasure.”

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Council President Saunteel Jenkins reminded opponents that the park will remain in Detroit.

“It will continue to sit on the Detroit River,” Jenkins said.

Under the council’s plan, the city would lease Belle Isle to the state for 10 years, instead of the 30 years proposed by Lansing. The city would have the opportunity to extend the lease twice after each decade.

“Thirty years is entirely too long,” Councilman James Tate said. “We’re not going to find a perfect lease, but I think we are closer to a document that is in the best interests of the residents of the city and one that is better in terms of the financials for the city of Detroit.”

The council also wants a provision that would allow it to get out of the lease if the state fails to properly maintain the park.

Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr still supports the original lease, his office said today.

“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 spokesman Bill Nowling said in a statement. “Under the agreement, the city will lease Belle Island for up to 30 years to the state but retain ownership. In exchange, the State will make nearly $20 Million in needed improvements and investment in the park and manage operations. The city will save more than $6 million a year under the lease.”

 

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.