belle isle

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

Jan 16, 2013
commonwealthofbelleisle.com

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.

DTE Energy

DETROIT (AP) - Officials say they've confirmed that common terns are doing well in restored habitat on the eastern tip of Belle Isle in the Detroit River.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says this year was the first time that the gull-like migratory birds have fledged, or grown enough to fly, in the area since the 1960s.

The habitat was created by the Detroit Zoological Society, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Some Detroiters have expressed their displeasure with the Belle Isle plan.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Matt Helms of the Detroit Free Press reports the Detroit City Council has dug their heels in on a plan for Belle Isle. The plan calls for the state to lease the park from the city and run it as a state park.

The Council has "indefinitely postponed" plans for a public hearing on the plan.

From the Freep:

The council's decision means the proposal can't go forward until council members get what they want: more funding guarantees from the state as well as a fuller hearing on alternative proposals for the island park.

Council members said the state had yet to respond to its request that guarantees of millions of dollars in upgrades to the island be put in writing, information that was not specifically spelled out in the state’s proposed 30-year lease. The lease would be for 30 years with two optional 30-year renewals.

A Detroit-based group says it has developed a model to refurbish Detroit’s Belle Isle without turning it into a state park.

The group says a Belle Isle Park Authority could both run the island, and provide a mechanism for making needed investments.

Tom Barrow, a former Detroit mayoral candidate and a spokesman, said the plan includes a governing structure, entry fees, and other revenue sources.  

The James Scott Memorial Fountain on Belle Isle Park.
Mike Russell / wikimedia commons

Members of the Detroit City Council are still deeply skeptical of a plan to turn Belle Isle into a state park.

That’s despite efforts by Mayor Dave Bing’s office and state officials to persuade them it's a good idea.

At a meeting today, Council members continued to express concern about a lack of specifics in the plan—including how much money the state plans to invest in improvements.

They also questioned why the state wants a long-term, 30-year lease.

Council member Saunteel Jenkins says there need to be more guarantees.

“If you’re saying to us ‘We want to trust us, give us 30 years and we’ll go out and get the money to make these improvements…’ I just want to see it in writing,” said Jenkins.

State officials said it's tough to be specific about those improvements because there’s no master plan for the island.

But they indicated the state could issue $20 million in bonds to upgrade Belle Isle.

Does Detroit have any chance of avoiding bankruptcy and a state takeover of some kind? Frankly, I don’t know. The odds right now look bad for the city being able to continue governing itself.

But miracles and surprises happen. And right now, something is going on which should be a pretty clear test of whether those running the Michigan’s largest city can avoid disaster.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Michigan No. 5 most obese state in the US

Michigan is now the fifth-most obese state in the nation. That's according to a study released yesterday by the Trust for America’s Health. The study also used data from the Centers for Disease Control to project obesity through the year 2030. The report says if habits don't change by then, about three out of every five

Snyder in China

Governor Rick Snyder left for a 10-day trade mission to China Tuesday. "Governor Snyder and members of his administration say he has two goals – to boost the more than two billion dollars a year in goods and services exported to China from Michigan, and to convince Chinese companies to make Michigan their U-S operational base," Rick Pluta reports. 

Detroit City Council says Belle Isle proposal is dead without changes

"It looks like a plan to turn Detroit’s Belle Isle into a state park has no shot with the Detroit City Council. The plan calls for the city to lease the park to the state for 30 years. The state would take over maintenance and make major, as-yet-unspecified upgrades to the island. But City Council members blasted the plan’s lack of detail. So far, Bing hasn’t laid out a contingency plan for dealing with Council resistance," Sarah Cwiek reports.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Without major changes, it looks like the proposal to turn Detroit’s Belle Isle into a state park doesn’t have a shot with the Detroit City Council.

City Council members blasted the proposal at a meeting Tuesday, calling it, among other things, “ridiculous” and “terrible.”

Mayor Dave Bing and Governor Snyder outlined the plan last week. It calls for the city to lease Belle Isle to the state for 30 years. In return, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources would maintain the island. The state would also make some as-yet-unspecified major upgrades.

via belleisleconservancy.org

The nation’s oldest aquarium is up and running once again.

Detroit’s Belle Isle Aquarium will be open to visitors Saturday for the first time since 2005, when the city shut it down due to a lack of funds.

That’s thanks to the efforts of volunteers, who’ve worked to restore the 108-year-old building and its aquatic population for the past seven years.

There was some good news yesterday for those who care about this state. Governor Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing announced a deal to turn Belle Isle, the city’s neglected jewel of an island park, over to state management for the next thirty years.

Under the agreement, the state would pour millions into Belle Isle, fixing up facilities that have become shabby. They would restore shelters and restrooms; shore up buildings that are starting to crumble, and make the park safe and family-friendly. 

A glimpse of the disturbing Belle Isle to come - from today's press materials about the proposed Belle Isle agreement.
State of Michigan/City of Detroit

Many Detroiters have long been suspicious of outsiders coming in to control their city, but once they lay their eyes on what Mayor Dave Bing and Gov. Rick Snyder have in store for the city's crown jewel, Belle Isle Park, they finally have real reasons to be afraid.

Belle Isle, it appears, will soon be overtaken by Photoshopped people from Pleasantville.

Only Detroiters won't have the pleasure of romping around their Utopia with Toby Maguire and Reese Witherspoon. They'll have to share the park with out-of-proportion picnickers, a cardboard blue heron, and a dancing DNR park ranger.

The James Scott Memorial Fountain on Belle Isle Park.
Mike Russell / wikimedia commons

Today, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Gov. Rick Snyder announced a plan to manage and restore Belle Isle. The plan will go before Detroit City Council for approval.

It calls for park operations, maintenance, and improvements to be managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources under a 30-year lease agreement. MDOT would maintain roads and bridges on Belle Isle.

The city of Detroit would maintain ownership of the park.

cnc photos / flickr

Every Wednesday Morning Edition host Christina Shockley and Michigan Radio's political analyst Jack Lessenberry talk about the latest in Michigan politics. This week they talk about updates to emergency financial managers in Allen Park and Flint, the future of Belle Isle and the proposed overhaul to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Snyder proposes Blue Cross overhaul

"Governor Rick Snyder has proposed an overhaul of the rules covering Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Michigan. It calls for Blue Cross to become a customer-owned not-for-profit insurance company. Blue Cross would have to pay taxes adding up to $100 million a year or more, but it would be better able to shield its rate-setting decisions from competitors. One of the biggest changes under the federal law is insurance companies can no longer reject applicants based on their health history. Right now, Blue Cross is the only insurance company in Michigan that has to accept all applicants, regardless of their age or health history.  For-profit insurance companies say they want the overhaul to make it easier for them to challenge Blue Cross’s market dominance," Rick Pluta reports.

The future of Belle Isle

"Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing have called a news conference Wednesday on the future of Belle Isle park, a tattered green gem that has been subject of a city-state power struggle. Proposals for a Michigan takeover of the under-maintained 985-acre park have met fierce opposition from some local officials who call it a state power grab. Michigan promises park improvements under an agreement between Snyder and Bing that staved off a state takeover of Detroit, struggling with a chronic budget deficit. The agreement says Belle Isle will operate "as part of a cooperative relationship with Milliken State Park" along the Detroit River," the AP reports.

Veterans' courts

"On the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, state lawmakers pushed forward a plan to give veterans a better shot to stay out of jail if they commit a non-violent crime. The state Senate unanimously passed two bills establishing a framework for creating veterans courts. They offer judges the option to send veterans to rehabilitation programs instead of jail. There are a number of similar courts in Michigan already. The measures passed unanimously in the House in May. They now go to Governor Snyder’s desk," Jordan Wyant reports.

DETROIT (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing have called a news conference on the future of Belle Isle park, a tattered green gem that has been subject of a city-state power struggle.

Mayoral spokeswoman Naomi Patton says Bing and Snyder will announce a park leasing agreement at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in Bing's downtown office.

Proposals for a Michigan takeover of the under-maintained 985-acre park have met fierce opposition from some local officials who call it a state power grab.

Some Detroiters have expressed their displeasure with the Belle Isle plan.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

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.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Signs of a widening rift between Detroit and state officials cropped up Tuesday, as rhetoric heated up over what’s going to happen to Detroit’s Belle Isle.

According to news reports, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said he’s rejected the state’s proposed offer to lease Belle Isle for 99 years.

A provision in Detroit’s consent agreement with Lansing provides for creating park funding for Belle Isle, while ensuring continued City ownership by designating  Belle Isle as part of a cooperative state relationship with Milliken State Park” on Detroit’s riverfront.

Patricia Drury/flickr

After years of rumors, it’s official - beavers are back on Belle Isle.

It’s been about 100 years since the animals left the 985-acre island on the Detroit River, driven away by trappings and human development. In recent years, any time someone thought they spotted a beaver in the area, park officials always deemed the animal a muskrat or raccoon caught in a case of mistaken identity.

That is, until last week when a park visitor snapped a cell phone photo of a beaver swimming in the Blue Heron Lagoon.

John Hartig of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge told The Detroit News that the Belle Isle beavers may have come from a family of beavers spotted at the nearby Conners Creek Power Plant four years ago.

After a four-year absence, the Detroit Grand Prix returns to Belle Isle this weekend.

The event officially kicked off Friday—despite steady rainfall--with a “free day” open to the public. It featured practice laps, some qualifying races, and other events away from the racetrack.

Races continue over the weekend, culminating with the Chevrolet Indy Grand Prix race on Sunday.

Grand Prix Chairman Bud Denker says he had “goosebumps” when he threw the green flag to kick off racing Friday morning.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Some Detroit Public Schools students involved in the Urban Forest Stewardship Program showed off their work this past weekend.

Eight Detroit middle and high schools participated in the program on Belle Isle this year.

Their projects included beach clean-ups, water quality testing, invasive species control, and clearing a new nature trail.

Tracy Ortiz, a sixth-grade science teacher at Detroit’s Clippert Academy, says the projects have introduced many of her students many of her students to natural world—and taught them science in a way that sticks.

demccain / flickrriver

Governor Snyder is pushing for a plan that would turn Detroit’s Belle Isle into a state park.

Detroit and the state have signed a consent agreement that, among other things, lays out broad plans to restructure the city.

One of those listed: a plan for the city to lease Belle Isle to the state. The state’s Park Endowment fund would then pick up the maintenance costs.

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