The process of turning Belle Isle into a state park began last Tuesday when the State of Michigan signed a lease with the city of Detroit. Under this agreement, the city would maintain ownership of the park while the State of Michigan and the Department of Natural Resources would assume responsibility for its management. Detroit city council now has 10 days to approve the lease. If rejected, council has seven additional days to come up with a comparable cost savings alternative.
Despite the lack of reasonable alternatives, many pundits and Detroiter’s alike are still skeptical of this proposal. Although there will be a cost associated with entry to the island, there are many advantages.
• First and foremost, leasing the park to the state would provide $4 million or more in annual cost savings to the city. At a time when money for adequate basic services is pretty much non-existent, these dollars could be allocated to more critical areas. Perhaps they could be used for the maintenance of other Detroit neighborhood parks, or reinvested in public safety.
• Becoming a state park would open the door for thousands of potential grant dollars that are only available to state parks. The state has promised $10-20 million of investment within the first 18-36 months of state management. It has been decades since the city properly invested in the island. Those of us with fond memories of the park quiver when reminded of the golf course, the Belle Isle Zoo, and until recently (thanks to the Belle Isle Conservancy) the Aquarium.
• The Michigan State Police and the Department of Natural resources would now be responsible for policing the island, meaning the city could redeploy 22 police officers to the streets and neighborhoods of Detroit.
• Most importantly, Belle Isle would remain a public park for the enjoyment of all. This lease does not move the park out of the city limits or prohibit residents from entering. When all is said and done what most of us really want is a park that we can be proud to pass down to the next generation.
It has been said time and time again that the revitalization of Detroit would come from people coming together and finding innovative solutions. Let’s not pass this one by.
Evette Hollins is a member of the Belle Isle Conservancy Emerging Patrons Council.