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Detroit City Council Discuss ‘Controversial’ Plans For Belle Isle

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DETROIT (WWJ) – The Detroit City Council on Tuesday discussed a controversial plan to have the state take Belle Isle off the city’s hands.

Council President Pro-Tem Gary Brown wants his colleagues to vote on whether they’re in support of negotiating a deal with the state on Belle Isle.

“If in fact there’s not support for that, you know, we might as well start working on the lighting situation, which is certainly more critical in this city than working on Belle Isle,” Brown said.

Other council members agreed, saying the future of Belle Isle has become a distraction and fixing the city’s finances should be taking priority.

“We’ve taken our eye off the ball and we’ve made Belle Isle, which is a park — and don’t get me wrong, parks and recreation are important, but they’re not a core service — but we’ve taken that and apparently the mayor and the governor have now made that the overriding priority. And the underlying argument seems to be ‘Well you’ve got to do this because the city is broke.’ Well, if the city’s broke, why aren’t we focusing on that issue?” Councilman Ken Cockrel said.

Cockrel agrees that Council should vote to see if the majority is in favor of negotiating with the state on a Belle Isle lease. If not, he wants the city to focus on improving public lighting and the city’s finances.

The plan to lease Belle Isle to the state for 30 years was detailed earlier this month by Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing. Snyder said the proposed agreement will help generate economic development and neighborhood revitalization, which are core to Detroit’s and Michigan’s reinvention.

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

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 plan, a Recreation Passport — a $10 pass that offers annual access to all Michigan state parks and recreation areas across the state — would be required for entry 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.

While the City Council continued their debate, several Detroit residents showed their support for plans to turn Belle Isle into a State Park:

– “I think it’s a good idea in principle, provided certain details are worked out.”

– “I think we’ve got the resources or if we could come up with the resources to not have the city lease the park to the state for 30 years, that would be best.”

– “I don’t have problems with the state taking over, as long as they make sure to take care of what they say they’re going to do.”

– “I don’t think there’s any other place in the country where you can come to an island park like Belle Isle, and the city needs to save that.”

– “If a million cars come to the island in a year, that’s $10 million, you know, you can really do a lot with that money.”

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.

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.

Last week, the City Council said they wouldn’t vote on Snyder and Bing’s Belle Isle plan, calling the proposal “stupid,” “offensive” and “insulting.”

See details of the plan, as outlined by the state, at this link.

Stay with WWJ Newsradio 950 and CBSDetroit.com for continuing coverage.

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