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Will Belle Isle Lease Deal Return To Detroit’s Bargaining Table?

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A view of Detroit from Belle Isle (Credit: Vickie Thomas/WWJ Newsradio 950)

A view of Detroit from Belle Isle (Credit: Vickie Thomas/WWJ Newsradio 950)

vickiethomas2 Vickie Thomas
Vickie Thomas is the City Beat Reporter for WWJ Newsradio 950. She was...
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DETROIT (WWJ) - With Detroit’s Emergency Manager now in place, could city leaders expect to find state management of Belle Isle back on the bargaining table?

WWJ’s City Beat Reporter Vickie Thomas spoke with Bill Nowling, spokesperson for emergency manager Kevyn Orr, who said the short answer is not anytime soon.

Nowling said the timing right now just isn’t right, citing issues with upcoming events such as Metallica’s Orion Music + More festival and the Grand Prix, where preparations on the island are already underway.

Nowling didn’t rule out the opportunity to discuss the matter with city leaders in the future, however, saying the operational issue will be visited at a later date.

Gov. Rick Snyder in January withdrew an offer by the state to lease Belle Isle from Detroit, which has owned the island since 1879.

The proposed plan, supported by both Snyder and Mayor Dave Bing, would have allowed Detroit to maintain ownership of the 985-acre island park and save the cash-strapped city $6 million annually in maintenance and other costs. The state would have leased Belle Isle for 30 years, with options every 10 years to renew. Visitors would have been required to purchase a Recreation Passport, which offers annual access to all Michigan state parks and recreation areas, for entry to Belle Isle.

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 the rule of an emergency manager.

Some visitors to Belle Isle, however, are still saying they would like to see the state step-in and implement a fee for the island park. Kevin Williams, who has lived in Detroit for 56 years, said he wishes the park could return to the way it was back in the glory days.

“It’s time for change. We’ve been doing this for too long, you know. If the generation was like when I grew up, where we could come out all night and sleep and picnic, that would be fine. But now, it’s just been taken over by the young generation and they just don’t care,” he said.

That doesn’t mean all have warmed up to the idea, though. Jerry Lawrence, who comes from Royal Oak to ride his bike along the Belle Isle shore, said he’s already seeing improvements on the island — without the state’s help.

“It really is looking a lot better. I know we’re getting ready for the Grand Prix, so I know that’s part of it, but, you know, there were some holes that are plugged now that weren’t plugged last week. So, that’s happening and quite frankly, it’s pretty clean. I rode around the whole island and it’s pretty clean, it’s looking good right now,” he said.

On the other hand, Lawrence did admit that he wouldn’t mind paying a fee to get into the park if it means continued upkeep at one of the city’s “hidden gems.”

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