Belle Isle to become a commonwealth?
By T. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — Holiday celebrants on Belle Isle this Fourth of July weekend could be counting their last such days on the island.
Rodney Lockwood Jr. is the principal in a company that develops, builds and manages apartment and senior living communities. However, his recent fame comes from his proposal to buy Belle Isle from the city of Detroit for $1 billion and turn it into a commonwealth.
The idea was more than a notion floated in news reports a few months back; it is a concept developed in Lockwood’s book “Belle Isle” and promoted on his Web site, www.commonwealthofbelleisle.com.
Lockwood describes his vision on his Web site: “Belle Isle is currently an uninhabited island of 982 acres in the Detroit River, bordering the U.S. and Canada. It is owned by the city of Detroit and used as a public park. In the book ‘Belle Isle,’ investors buy the island from Detroit for $1 billion and build a supercharged community with its own laws, customs, transportation systems, taxation and currency, transforming Belle Isle into the ‘Midwest Tiger,’ rivaling Singapore and Hong Kong as an economic miracle.
Lockwood predicts the purchase of Belle Isle will tranform Detroit from its current state into a job creation machine.
Add Lockwood’s vision with Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s omnipotent powers and Gov. Rick Snyder’s prior interest in Belle Isle and the future for his plan is open.
A Michigan native who attended the University of Michigan and Wayne State University, Lockwood is also former president and chairman of the Board of the Michigan Housing Council, has served on the board of a Detroit-based community bank, is a board member of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, and is the immediate past chairperson of the Board of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber of Commerce perspective is reflected in his views of the island as commonwealth.
Finance, insurance and investments will be the chief business activity of the commonwealth. He sees plants built across the Detroit River in Detroit, with the engineering and management functions on Belle Isle. “Companies from all over the world will locate on Belle Isle, bringing massive amounts of capital and GDP to the area. Detroit, the State of Michigan and the U.S. will benefit from this influx of capital and ongoing GDP growth,” Lockwood predicts.
People from all over the world will emigrate to Belle Isle who desire to live in a beautiful city free from excessive government and oppressive taxation and who want unlimited opportunity to lead a life of their own making, he says. “This diverse population will make Belle Isle a very cosmopolitan city with an interesting culture.”
As a former board member of the far-right think tank the Mackinac Center, his possibilities for success increase. No one might have imagined 20 years ago that one unelected man would control all Detroit finances, assets and future, nor that the public schools would be reduced to less than half in number and operate beyond the reach of the elected board. It was the Mackinac Center that drafted the legislation for emergency management and who has pushed it to reality.
Lockwood has lined up support for his idea. Among those championing the idea are Hal Sperlich, former president of Chrysler Corporation and member of the Automotive Hall of Fame, who describes himself as “Patriot.” Sperlich says Lockwood’s vision “helps us rediscover the roots that built this great nation and suggests that these great powers might once again work their magic.”
Manny Lopez, managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential, says, “Central planners and obstructionists be damned — and stay far, far away. Bold actions are needed to transform Detroit, and Lockwood’s vision lays the groundwork to make it all happen.”
Larry Mongo, owner of Cafe D’Mongo Speakeasy in Detroit, says he likes Lockwood’s idea. “Change requires us to think differently. Detroit has been changed by Cadillac, Woodward and Henry Ford in the past. Rod Lockwood’s vision and passion for Detroit and its citizens is the change we need for the future.”