I was surprised to learn that Belle Isle is becoming a state park as of January 1st, 2014. Governor Rick Snyder just approved a deal with Bobby Orr, the emergency manager, that leases Belle Isle to the State for 30 years. This move will save the city of Detroit $4-6 million annually, so it’s a pretty good move. Detroit will still technically own the Belle Isle, but the Department of Natural Resources will manage it. Starting next year, you will need the $11/yr recreation passport sticker on your license plate to enter Belle Isle State Park. Man, that sounds weird to say.
I visited Belle Isle for the first time in almost 15 years this summer when I attended the Orion Festival there. This was the first time I had heard of the island being used for a concert, too. The buildings on the island looked like they were crumbling away, only slightly less than the rest of the city. Now that the DNR is managing the island, state funds will be available. The DNR also will also seek $10-20 million in grants for repairs and renovations to the island’s infrastructure.
I’m glad to hear Belle Isle will finally receive the care it needs to bounce back. This deal seems like a good thing for both the city, the state, and the people. However, not everyone is happy about it. City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson had this to say:
“It’s an absolute treasure, and Belle Isle is ours. It flies in the face of all the public pronouncements of the state trying to help the city. It sounds like a rape to me. It should never be touched. It’s a disgrace before God to have this outrageous seizing of an asset.”
Now, when I read this I immediately realized why Detroit is in such bad financial shape. The city has people like this making decisions. Important decisions. I don’t think this woman understands what a lease is. The city still owns the island. They don’t have to pay to maintain it (which they couldn’t afford to do anyway), and everyone can still us it (with the recreation passport). So, where’s the drawback? Apparently, councilwoman Watson would rather see the island fall into further despair, eventually to the point that it’s unusable. Unusable like a huge percentage of Detroit already is, full of desolate urban prairies piled high with old tires. Sometimes you just gotta know when to let go, Detroit. It’s for the better.