Keep Lipke Park public
The battle over the future of Lipke Park in northeast Detroit says a lot about politics in the city, the sorry state of representative government, the lack of democracy. It also explains in large part the “apathy” of Detroiters over the approaching primary election while exposing the pitfalls of privatization.
Children are what make the Lipke area unique. The largest concentration of children under 18 in all of Michigan, live in the Lipke neighborhood. Concern about those children and their future is absent from city plans for the park.
Fifteen acres and a 10-year-old fieldhouse, that is Lipke park. It was thriving, well used, offering a number of classes and sports teams until the heating and air conditioning units were stolen and Mayor Dave Bing shut down a viable program and facility.
Now the city says millions of dollars are necessary to reopen the popular spot. Not so, say the residents. With the aide of experts, the community leaders toured the building and say the city is wildly exaggerating the cost. The pool needs tile work and new pumps; walls need patching where Michigan’s worst winter in decades took its toll on the empty facility and, of course, the HVAC replacement. Not millions, perhaps a half a million.
There is money available. In 2011 the city was awarded a $300,000 grant from the state DNR and budgeted its match. Where is the money, community leaders ask. In April, Mayor Duggan announced corporations had stepped forward with $120 million to improve city parks. Where is that money?
Mayor Duggan, his aide Charlie Beckham and the area’s district councilperson Scott Benson are pulling to give the property to the Salvation Army. It is a church. Its doesn’t pay taxes and is not required to report how much money it takes in or how it spends it.
Salvation Army is a corporate church with political ties. Families on public assistance no longer receive cash clothing allowances. Now they get vouchers to use at Salvation Army. Recipients don’t even have the chance to pick which used clothing store they will shop. It’s Salvation Army or nothing.
There’s another corporation in the back room deals deciding Lipke’s future, hamburger maker McDonalds. In fact, the only Salvation Army person the community gets to talk with is Errol Service, owner of 16 McDonald’s franchises. He sits on the Salvation Army board and is lead on the effort to get Lipke. Service makes it plain his goal is to see a water park on the 15-acre site despite the struggling Chandler Park. The Kroc Foundation, named for McDonald’s founder, was involved in an eastside recreation development a few years back but withdrew after council approved it.
The Salvation Army are not transparent. Benson and Beckham have been dealing with Kroc, Service, McDonald’s and the Salvation Army. The community and the children have been excluded.
Community members make it plain they don’t want the water park or the Salvation Army; they want the field house open and owned by the public.
Duggan, Benson and Beckham put the duty to save the Lipke squarely on the shoulders of the residents: “Bring us a proposal, and it has to be a feasible proposal.” No public presentation of a proposal has been asked of the Salvation Army. In fact, they say they will not make a proposal public until they own the land.
Not one person in charge and in control of city government is saying, let’s see how we can work this out.
What has government in the city become? There is no voice for the ordinary people, only handouts for the wealthy and connected. No effort by those on the public payroll to assist the public. No directives from elected officials to staff to “Get this done.”
Why couldn’t officials and the private parties partner with the community? Why can’t some of the $120 million Duggan said had been put up for parks by the likes of businesses such as the Lear Corporation be put towards the operation of Lipke?
City officials like to say that Detroit is coming back. It never will, ever, if those with power do nothing for the children, nothing for the neighborhoods.
Mr. Mayor, Councilperson Benson, keep Lipke Park public and get it open.