Economy
3:04 pm
Wed January 16, 2013

Commonwealth of Belle Isle: The world's next city-state?

Belle Isle inspires big dreams.

First there was the state’s attempt to photoshop Belle Isle into a "Pleasantville"-style utopia of dog walkers and picnics.

Now, a group of wealthy investors want to buy Detroit’s island park for $1 billion, secede from Michigan, and develop the 982 acres into the Commonwealth of Belle Isle, a Singapore-like city-state with its own laws, customs, and currency.

Real estate developer Rodney Lockwood Jr. has laid out the idea in a new book of political fiction that would make Ayn Rand proud.

In fact, the new Belle Isle would replace dollars with “Rands.”

Lockwood’s book envisions Belle Isle 30 years in the future after an economic boom and its emergence as a “Midwest Tiger”—a place with zero deficit and no income taxes.

According to an FAQ on the book’s website, Belle Isle’s success would be built upon the foundation of limited government, self-reliance, and lots and lots of money.

Those wanting to live on the island would pay a $300,000 citizenship fee and would be subject to review by a citizenship board.

Its primary industries would be “finance, insurance, and investments.”

According to Crain’s Detroit Business, supporters of Lockwood’s plan will be pitching the idea next week to a group of business and civic leaders at the Detroit Athletic Club.

One of the presenters, former Chrysler president Hal Sperlich, told Crain’s that the development of Belle Isle would be a “tipping point”:

"I'm excited about it, but it's going to take a long road to make it happen. But you can go way back and ask what were the chances of this country happening in 1776? Sometimes, big ideas work out.”

"Yes, you'll hear the 'they're stealing our jewels.' But hopefully, people will see the intent here is to provide a massive impetus to the city. This will lead to massive development in downtown Detroit and massive development to the area adjacent to the bridge.”

Others are not so sure that Lockwood's plan is the right one to restore Belle Isle to its former glory.

George Jackson, president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. told the Detroit News that Belle Isle would get fixed, but “[i]t won’t be that plan.”

Some have gone so far as to call the idea “unhinged.”

But if not the Commonwealth of Bell Isle, then what?

Let us know your ideas here on our website, or on Michigan Radio’s Facebook and Twitter.

- Jordan Wyant, Michigan Radio Newsroom