Belle Isle, a Detroit-owned island park on the Detroit River and site of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, is currently being considered for temporary lease to the State of Michigan. According to the agreement made on Jan. 17, Detroit retains ownership of the park but will temporarily transfer park management to the state, putting it in charge of the park’s operations and repairs for the next 10 years. Once a major attraction to the city, funding difficulties left the island’s landscape and buildings deteriorated, and according to park manager Keith Flournoy, by 2010, no budget was dedicated to the park. The park and the Detroit community may financially benefit from the temporary switch in management, and the city should support the plan.
Though the state will continue to collect the revenue during the lease, these funds will be entirely devoted to Belle Isle and will be transferred to the city at the end of the lease. The state has also pledged to invest millions into beautifying and upgrading the park to once again make it an attraction. The agreement would save Detroit $6 million in maintenance fees. While some Detroit residents have questioned the state’s intentions with Belle Isle, arguments claiming the state will exploit Detroit through its ownership of the park are unconvincing. Just as other state parks have brought thousands into other cities across Michigan, the increased attention given to Belle Isle can provide the same boost in tourism and recreation — a boost Detroit desperately needs.
Currently, Detroit carries the unfair burden of being the primary funder of the largest island park in the nation. Detroiters have been the only group taxed to maintain Belle Isle, which is accessible to everyone in the state. Managed by the Department of Natural Resources, the lease and operation of the park would not only distribute this burden, but also, as Gary Brown, the Detroit City Council president pro tem, points out, “attract revenue from around the state.” It will be an opportunity to foster collaboration and good will between the state and Detroit, which remain counterproductively strained.
Given that Belle Isle has deteriorated while Detroit’s economy struggled, the possibility of leasing Belle Isle is a cost-effective decision. The lease agreement should be seriously considered because it not only maintains Belle Isle’s longstanding ownership by Detroit, but also distributes the unfair burden of financing the park and fosters meaningful collaboration between the state and the city. It’s a way to reinvigorate a park that the people of Michigan — especially the citizens of Detroit — deserve.