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Council trims Belle Isle lease to 10 years

Detroit City Council considers the state lease proposals for Belle Isle. DONALD BARNES PHOTO

Detroit City Council considers the state lease proposals for Belle Isle. DONALD BARNES PHOTO

By Donald Barnes
Special to the Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — Oct. 14 City Council approved  an alternative state lease of Belle Isle, for 10 years. In a unanimous vote, council rejected Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s most recent proposal to lease the city’s largest park for 30 years with two 15-year renewal options. The alternative lease received a 4-2 vote. Council members JoAnn Watson and Brenda Jones voted against the lease.

According to David Whittaker, director of the city’s research and analysis department, the state has not shown the ability to fund improvements to the island. “If it’s not funded, then we can terminate the lease,” Council President Saunteel Jenkins said.

Councilman James Tate said he doesn’t think the city will ever find the perfect lease. “I do think we’ve gotten closer to a document,” Tate said. “I do what I believe is in the best interest of the city, you just can’t say no without a viable alternative.”

Watson presented the Belle Isle master plan, originally drafted in 2005.  Watson has opposed the state’s plan to lease Belle Isle from the beginning. “This has nothing to with (bankruptcy), this has (everything) to do with a wealth transfer,” Watson said. “This body should not feel forced into some lease.” The plan approved by council has 30 days to be approved by the three-member state Emergency Loan Board, appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder.

Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr released a statement favoring his original proposal. Orr said his lease proposal provides “the best framework in which to ensure the restoration of Belle Isle’s luster.” Orr also claimed the city would save more than $6 million a year under the lease. Council has challenged the $6 million figure since the lease also requires the city to financially maintain certain structures and operations in the park.

According to Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, the city will be responsible for $2.7 million in maintenance costs, nearly half of what Orr says the city will save.

Orr spokesman Bill Nowling says the alternative plan is not a viable because the 30 years are necessary.

“The state must issue municipal bonds to fund the investment in Belle Isle, which normally are financed for 30 years.”

Residents again filled council chambers during the vote and expressed their discontent with council regarding the lease.

Linda Hasson scolded council for their vote.

“In my opinion, Public Act 436 has not been passed properly,” she said. “This is a very serious situation. The state already has Mackinac Island; I think the people (of Detroit) should have their own island.”

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