Detroit Council members: Belle Isle deal threatens city "jewel"

Aug 1, 2012

Three Detroit City Council members led a rally opposing what they call a “state takeover” of Belle Isle Wednesday, saying plans to lease the park to the state amount to stealing a Detroit “jewel.”

State and city officials are in talks to lease the island park to the state, which would integrate it into the state parks system. The plan’s advocates say the state would make much-needed improvements to Belle Isle, while freeing up Detroit dollars for other uses.

But for some Detroiters, this amounts to a hostile takeover of one of the city’s prize assets, and a continued chipping away at local control.

Detroit City Council member Kwame Kenyatta says Belle Isle does need upgrades, and the city is looking to Lansing for “true partnership.” The Council recently passed a non-binding resolution urging Mayor Dave Bing to "retain local control" over Belle Isle.

But Kenyatta thinks what’s been discussed so far amounts to disenfranchising long-time Detroiters. He says there's a perception that the state is chipping in to "improve" Detroit for the benefit of people who will return or only recently returned to the city, not the people who have stuck it out through the tough years.

“Many of you stayed," Kenyatta shouted as he rallied the crowd Wednesday. "You paid the high taxes. You paid the high insurance. You’ve endured the lack of services.

But you’re still here, and you deserve to be respected.”

Kenyatta and his Council colleagues who led the Belle Isle rally, Brenda Jones and JoAnn Watson, have also consistently opposed Detroit’s consent agreement with the state.

But not everyone sees state involvement in Belle Isle in the same light.

Curtis Dudley was spending the afternoon on Belle Isle with his two young sons. He says he wouldn’t mind state involvement if “that’s what it takes” to clean the place up.

“I would come more often," Dudley said. "It’s hard to find a spot...[there's] too much trash around.”

Detroit’s consent agreement  talks about giving the state a "long-term lease," and working in cooperation with the city and non-profits to implement a “master plan" for the island. A spokeswoman for Governor Snyder says he’s committed to following through on that.

Bing rejected the state's initial offer of a 99-year lease, but says he's confident a deal will get done. Negotiations are ongoing.