The City of Detroit and State of Michigan’s announcement of the partnership to enhance Belle Isle is a defining moment in relations between city and state. The agreement will provide formidable resources to support much-needed improvements to what is undoubtedly one of Detroit’s most valuable assets.
These types of announcements signal positive change for the city of Detroit and make good on Gov. Rick Snyder’s pledge to focus on urban revitalization efforts and Mayor Bing’s promise to reinvent Detroit.
As a longtime resident of Detroit and a parent of two, I hope that my children will experience the same level of enjoyment in Belle Isle that so many of us treasure.
Positive change is coming and it means good things for us all.
Hiram E. Jackson
CEO, Real Times Media, Interim Publisher, Michigan Chronicle
The Time Has Come TO Revitalize Belle Isle
By Gov. Rick Synder and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing
Belle Isle is a Detroit jewel.
Rich in history and ripe in nostalgia for Detroit citizens and Michiganders, the island park is at the heart of the city’s identity.
This signature space should be protected and enhanced. Future generations deserve to have the same opportunities past generations have had to enjoy the island’s forested beauty as a site for family reunions and afternoon picnics, a place to swim and relax on a hot summer afternoon, a retreat into nature.
We strongly believe that the best way to protect and enhance Belle Isle is through a cooperative agreement between the City of Detroit and the State of Michigan. Giving special attention – including additional resources – to Belle Isle will benefit everybody in the state by restoring the sheen to one of those special places that make Michigan home.
The city and state have drafted a proposed lease agreement that would create the foundation for this Belle Isle partnership. The lease would allow the city to continue to own Belle Isle. At the same time, the agreement would allow the State of Michigan to lease the island from the city for 30 years, with the opportunity for the lease to continue for two additional 30-year periods.
The period of the lease is long enough for the state to secure funding for projects on the island, and brief enough that Detroit citizens won’t have to feel as though one of their most precious public assets has been irrevocably transferred to state hands. At the same time, the City of Detroit will be able to take funds that would have been spent on Belle Isle and redirect that money to other critical needs.
What will this lease mean for the citizens of Detroit and for Belle Isle?
Two words: Positive change.
The state agencies that will be part of this significant undertaking intend to put in place a transition team that will make immediate improvements on Belle Isle.
Job one will be to make sure park visitors feel they are in a safe environment, one they will feel comfortable patronizing with family and friends.
Next, we plan to make improvements to some of the facilities that are closed or in need of repair. Those improvements include renovating and opening restrooms. Buildings will be retrofitted with energy efficiency updates. Picnic shelters will be renovated and rehabilitated.
Permanent staff for Belle Isle Park will be interviewed and hired. Staffers on the island who currently work for the City of Detroit will be redeployed to work in neighborhood parks, improving the city parks system overall.
A new endowment will be put in place for long-term sustainable funding. All park revenue from grants, endowments and other sources that derive from Belle Isle will be placed in a special restricted account to administer, maintain and improve the park. If the money is meant for Belle Isle, it will be spent on Belle Isle. New resources will be tapped to make this partnership work.
The lease arrangement will allow the island to benefit from funding available to Michigan State Parks that could not otherwise be used. The state’s Department of Natural Resources will seek grants from a number of sources, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Great Lakes Fisheries Trust, for improvements on Belle Isle.
Money from those various sources would be used for restoration of picnic shelters that have fallen into disrepair and restrooms that have been shuttered far too long. The grants would be used, also, for fishing pier improvements and new signs to help people find their way around the park.
The DNR has bonding capacity that can be used to make capital improvements on Belle Isle. The Michigan Department of Transportation will tap available funds to improve roads on the island. Nearly every DNR division – the agency’s forest professionals, wildlife and fisheries specialists and its recreation experts – will have a role in making Belle Isle work so people can play.
But the partnership to improve Belle Isle will not be just a government effort. Non-profit groups and businesses such as the Belle Isle Conservancy, Penske Corp., Ducks Unlimited, Mid-Michigan Recycling have already agreed to lend a hand in supporting this important project. More community-minded organizations will no doubt come forward over time.
The refurbished island will work hand-in-glove with Milliken State Park and the ever-improving Detroit riverfront. Consistent management and cooperative partnerships will help create a similar feel, a common standard of care and a dependable level of safety along all of these public lands.
Together, we can make Belle Isle a place that will keep making memories for a new generation of Detroiters. We owe that to Belle Isle and its amazing history. We owe that to the people of Detroit and the state of Michigan.