When Michigan state officials discussed a proposed lease of Detroit’s Belle Isle park with a dubious City Council Tuesday, the eight (of nine) present members reiterated they weren’t ready to agree to it.
Council members, who have been discussing the plan announced jointly by Governor Snyder and Mayor Bing for the state Department of Natural Resources to lease the park from the city for 30 years, also said it was worth hearing other proposals and that they wanted more specifics in the contract.
“There’s no urgency. Belle Isle is not about to sink into the Detroit River if we don’t approve the lease,” Council President Charles Pugh said.
The state would not pay to lease Belle Isle but rather, would assume the costs of maintenance and operation which is estimated to save the city $275 million over the 30-year period. Funds would come from the State Park Endowment, State Park Improvement and Recreation Passport funds. Motor vehicles entering the park would need the $10 annual “passport” to enter any state parks.
Council members expressed concern over the lack of details provided about how much money will be allocated to the park. As a preliminary figure, DNR Director Keith Creagh said the state may provide $20 million in bonds for park improvements.
The state said that at a minimum the DNR will spend more, including grants and partnerships, than the current $6.2 million annually on operations, maintenance, redevelopment and security.
Security was another of the issues that gave Council pause. Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins wanted the lease to outline how many state troopers and rangers would be used at the park rather than just saying they cooperate on a security plan.
“It sounds good but it doent mean anything,” she said.
Council President Pro Tem thought park rangers and other employees from outside Detroit would not be sensitive to the residents who used what would be the largest urban state park.
Belle Isle would possible be able to retain some of its features that set it apart from other state parks. Rodney Stokes, who works with Synder on Belle Isle and placemaking after stints at the DNR and Detroit’s Recreation Department, said Belle Isle could potentially keep its longer hours.
Council pushed for the hiring Detroit residents for Belle Isle positions, which the state said it could not guarantee.
Another Council concern was the length of the lease and the two near-automatic renewals which would mean it would potentially be in effect for 90 years.
“I don’t think it’s going to take us 30 years to not be broke,” said Councilman Ken Cockrel. “This city could be fiscally stable in five years.”
Pugh said a 10-year lease was more reasonable.
Councilman Kwame Kenyatta boycotted the meeting in protest and Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, who has been one of the most vocal critics of the proposed lease, said earlier Tuesday she was ready to vote against it.
“It’s an offense… to be giving away something because you can’t keep it clean,” she said after Creagh talked about the DNR’s role in picking up trash and maintaining restrooms, instead of fixing the park’s management. “It’s an insult to the citizens of Detroit.”
But others were more amenable. Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown said he was in favor of the concept of leasing Belle Isle, but not until questions had been answered and changes had been made to the document.
Creagh said they should all refrain from the “short-sighted” view of worrying about specific dollar amounts in the lease and rather focus on the state demonstrating the results it promises.
But Council members continued to return to the metaphor of buying a car. You wouldn’t lease a car without knowing the terms, they said.
Deputy Mayor Kirk Lewis joined state officials in pressing for the need for the lease.
“The state park system has been in existence for 93 years and city of Detroit citizens have been paying into that without getting something back for it,” he said. “We’re trying to look at an opportunity to raise the standards and the quality of life for the citizens of Detroit.”