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State to lease Belle Isle

Staff report

DETROIT — Mayor Dave Bing and Gov. Rick Snyder announced Sept. 12 a tentative leasing agreement that will transfer management and operations of the city’s historic Belle Isle park to the state of Michigan and Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Additionally, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) will assume responsibility for roads and bridges on Belle Isle.

According to the proposed 30-year agreement, the city of Detroit will maintain ownership of Belle Isle.

Mayor Bing called it a win-win situation.

“This city-state collaboration will return Belle Isle to its original beauty through major improvements and regular maintenance overseen by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources,” the mayor said at a Sept. 12 press conference. “It presents a win-win situation for the city and the entire state, by preserving a historic destination in the city of Detroit.”

Snyder says the proposed agreement will help generate economic development and neighborhood revitalization.

“Establishing Belle Isle as a state park provides needed financial relief to Detroit without it relinquishing ownership, brings long overdue restoration and enhancements to the park, and guarantees a beautiful place for Michigan residents to enjoy for decades to come,” Snyder said.

The proposed agreement will now go before City Council for a vote. City officials say it is unclear whether a “no” vote will prevent the agreement from going forward.

Mayor Bing has a history of moving actions forward in opposition to Council’s vote under cover of the Consent Agreement between the city and the state that supersedes elected officials.

“As of now, nothing has been approved by Council,” Councilwoman JoAnn Watson told the Michigan Citizen shortly after the partnership announcement.

“(There’s) no clarity on what happens if council votes no,” she said.

Naomi Patton of the mayor’s office agreed.

“But Mayor Bing is optimistic the Council will approve the agreement,” she said.

According to Patton, the proposed agreement will free up city funds to maintain the city’s 200-plus neighborhood parks.

“All staff dedicated to Belle Isle will go to city parks; those funds are part of the parks and recreation budget.”

Plans for the city’s jewel should put those concerned about development opportunities to rest, she said.

“The idea is not for this to become some type of Disney development or anything like that. Of course there’s the Grand Prix and there has been talk of eventually having Lalapalooza, but definitely not (corporate) development.”

If the agreement is approved and Belle Isle becomes a state park, an annual fee of $10 will be charged for all Michiganders.

According to a city press statement, the Recreation Passport, which offers annual access to all Michigan state parks and recreation areas across the state, will not be immediately required for entry to Belle Isle. The passport will be required for visitors to Belle Isle beginning March 31, 2015. Park goers on foot or entering the park via public transportation will not need a pass and can enter for free.

No rent will be paid for the lease. Operation, maintenance and improvement projects will be considered compensation. An 11-member advisory council consisting of five representatives appointed by the governor, three representatives appointed by the mayor of the city of Detroit, two representatives appointed by the Detroit City Council, and one member who shall chair the committee jointly appointed by the governor and mayor, will advise the parties on implementation of improvements and master planning for the park. The city and state will also work cooperatively with the Belle Isle Conservancy or its successor.

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