Belle Isle will open Monday, February 10, under Michigan management as the 102nd state park and the newest one in the state. The island is situated on the Detroit River between the city of Detroit and Canada. Belle Isle is currently under the city of Detroit’s management, but has been leased to the state in a 30-year agreement in light of the city’s financial crisis. Up until its takeover by the state next week and its conversion to a Michigan state park, Belle Isle, under Detroit management, has been the largest island city park owned by a city in the United States.
At the beginning of 2013, with the inevitable issue of filing for bankruptcy looming in Detroit’s immediate future, but the city thinking that the situation might still be salvageable and not yet at the point of taking the plunge, Bingham Farms, Michigan developer Rodney Lockwood, author of the book “Belle Isle, Detroit’s Game Changer,” offered up the idea to sell Belle Isle to private developers for $1 billion and turn the island into a “commonwealth utopia.” The idea was met with mixed – but mostly negative – reviews by citizens, and the majority of Detroit City Council did not like the idea. Most had the feeling though, that a deal would be made for the island to be improved in one way or another and used to benefit the city and most likely that deal would be made with the state which is what happened at the end of 2013.
The island of Belle Isle was leased to the state government of Michigan as part of a 30-year agreement back in the fall. Detroit City Council rejected the idea, offering up the suggestion of a 10-year lease agreement with the state instead. Its suggestion was rejected however, and it was decided that Belle Isle would be leased and will open this Monday, February 10, under Michigan management as a state park. The lease agreement was signed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who worked collaboratively with Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and a small financial team to put the deal through. This agreement comes in response to the Detroit financial crisis, and also the city’s declaration of Chapter 9 bankruptcy late last year. As a result of its debt, some of Detroit’s most prized assets have been put at stake in recent months, including Belle Isle and also the city’s priceless collection of artwork at The Detroit Institute of Arts (an issue it is still struggling with how to handle). However, leasing the island to the state may have been a positive move. The state has committed to help with $20 million in park developments over the next three years, while still aiding the city of Detroit in its bankruptcy crisis.
Under the current management of the city of Detroit, Belle Isle houses things to do and places to see for visitors such as The Belle Isle Conservatory, The Belle Isle Aquarium, The Dossin Great Lakes Museum, several facilities for sports and recreational activities, and a beach and coast guard station. The island also offers abundant nature and wildlife to its visitors.
Both some small and large changes are being made to the park in light of its change in management. In the past, entrance to the island by way of the bridge across from the city of Detroit has been free of charge to motorists. Next week, however, when Belle Isle will open Monday under Michigan management as a state park, all visitors will be charged an $11 fee to enter. In addition, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has just finished removing some 160 unsafe trees in preparation for the state to take over management of the 982-acre island. There is no word yet on what specific types of changes to Belle Isle will be made by the new state management after it takes over.
By Laura Clark
Detroit Free Press
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