State Details Plan To Lease Detroit’s Belle Isle

DETROIT (WWJ) – The state of Michigan would manage Detroit’s Belle Isle under the terms of a 30-year lease agreement.

The plan, announced Wednesday by Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, now awaits approval by Detroit City Council members who have expressed concern about handing over control of the popular park.

Belle Isle, 985-acre island located midway between Detroit and Windsor, has been owned by the city since 1879. In recent years the island has suffered as Detroit can’t afford needed repairs.

The city of Detroit would maintain ownership under the proposed agreement with the state and Department of Natural Resources leasing the land under contract.

– View a copy of the lease (.pdf format) – 

“Michiganders have enjoyed Belle Isle for more than a century,” said Gov. Snyder, in a statement. “From the conservatory and museum to sporting events and family picnics, this historic landmark has brought fond memories to all who have visited. Establishing Belle Isle as a state park provides needed financial relief to Detroit without it relinquishing ownership, brings long overdue restoration and enhancements to the park, and guarantees a beautiful place for Michigan residents to enjoy for decades to come.”

Snyder said the proposed agreement will help generate economic development and neighborhood revitalization, which are core to Detroit’s and Michigan’s reinvention.

“This city-state collaboration will return Belle Isle to its original beauty through major improvements and regular maintenance overseen by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources,” said Detroit Mayor Dave Bing. “It presents a win-win situation for the City and the entire State, by preserving a historic destination in the City of Detroit.”

The park’s operations, maintenance and improvements would be managed by the DNR and funded through the Michigan State Parks Endowment Fund and through other sources. Additionally, the state Department of Transportation would assume responsibility for roads and bridges on Belle Isle.

No rent will be paid for the lease. Operation, maintenance and improvement projects will be considered compensation.

An 11-member committee consisting of members appointed Bing, Snyder and the Detroit City Council will get a say in plans for the park. . The city and state will also work cooperatively with the nonprofit Belle Isle Conservancy.

Under the proposed lease agreement:

  • The lease is 30 years from the time it is approved by the Detroit City Council. The lease would be extended for two additional 30-year periods, unless the city or state provides written notice to the other party of its intent to not extend the lease.
  • The state can terminate the lease after 18 months’ prior notification to the city providing written notice. The city can call negotiating sessions to resolve obstacles to continuing the lease. The city can terminate the lease for cause if the state fails to fulfill the terms of the lease.
  • The Recreation Passport, which offers annual access to all Michigan state parks and recreation areas across the state, will not be immediately required for entry to Belle Isle. The Passport will be required for visitors to Belle Isle beginning March 31, 2013. Park goers on foot or entering the park via public transportation will not need a pass and can enter for free.
  • All park revenue from grants, endowments and other sources that derive from Belle Isle will be placed in a special sub-account in the Department of Natural Resources State Park improvement account to administer, maintain and improve the park. The balance of that account will transfer to the city upon termination of the lease.
  • The state will provide the mayor and Detroit City Council with annual reports, including management of the park and accounting of all park revenue. The city has the right to review and audit the state’s records related to park revenue each year.
  • The city and state will together develop a detailed security plan for the park.
  • The DNR will improve the park based on a phased management plan. The improvements will remain with the park even after the lease is terminated.
  • MDOT will develop an asset management plan outlining short-and long-term strategies to maintain the roads and bridges in an acceptable condition using Act 51 funds.
  • The city and the state will work cooperatively with the Belle Isle Conservancy to develop a master plan to improve the park.

Would the plan affect the future of the Detroit Grand Prix? The event’s chairman, Bud Denker, feels strongly that the state investment in the island would make Grand Prix even stronger.

“With them having the resources and the core competencies to run such a park we’re very excited,” Denker said. “I think it’s only gonna be a positive situation for the Grand Prix.”

Denker said given the state’s plan, along with the renovations his organization is making to the island, he hopes the Grand Prix will have a home on Belle Isle for many years.

Many Detroit residents have spoken out about any proposal to lease the island, some saying such a move would further undermine the rights of citizens who have already lost political clout under a consent agreement with the state.

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