DETROIt (WXYZ) - A controversial move to lease Detroit's Belle Isle to the state has been signed by Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and was announced at the Detroit City Council meeting this morning by Council President Saunteel Jenkins.
Under the lease, the DNR will assume management of the park, after a 90-day transition period. Opposition to the lease earlier this year caused it to be tabled.
The signed lease is for a 30-year-term with two 15-year renewals. The city will maintain ownership of Belle Isle, while the Michigan DNR will manage it as a state park. The Michigan Department of Transportation will assume responsibility for the island's roads and bridges.
The lease would reportedly save the city $4 million a year in maintenance costs it could not afford in bankruptcy.
“One way to revitalize Detroit is by revitalizing Belle Isle, one of Detroit’s most iconic places,” said Gov. Rick Snyder in a statement. “This state-city partnership will provide a clean, safe park environment and enhance Belle Isle for citizens while still allowing the city to retain ownership of one of its jewels. This lease will save Detroit much-needed funds as the city emerges from financial crisis and will generate economic development and neighborhood revitalization that are core to Detroit’s comeback.”
“Detroit’s current financial condition prohibits the City from investing in the much-needed restoration of Belle Isle,” said Mayor Dave Bing. “As I stated last year when a proposed lease agreement was developed, my administration strongly believes the state park structure is the best option for managing and maintaining the island and restoring it to its grandeur.”
The state will make renovations almost immediately following the 90-day transition period, based on a one year plan that is included in the lease.
A 7-member advisory committee will be appointed to advise the state on all improvements, as well as a master plan for Belle Isle. Three representatives will be appointed by the governor, one will be appointed by the Detroit City Council and two will be appointed by the mayor of Detroit. The final member will be appointed jointly by the mayor and governor.
As least three members of the committee must be residents of the city of Detroit.
While exact details of the improvements planned for the island aren't known, the previously discussed deal included improvements to public facilities, beaches, restrooms, picnic areas, as well as the reopening of the aquarium, boathouse and canals.
State investment is expected to be between $10 and $20 million in the first 18 to 36 months of state control.
Beginning January 1, 2014, a State of Michigan Recreation Passport will be required for entry of motor vehicle onto Belle Isle.
The $11 Passport is a per car charge, and offers access to Michigan state parks and recreation areas throughout the state. It does not apply to pedestrians, bicyclists or anyone using public transportation- they will be able to enter the park free of charge.
Revenue from the Recreation Passport will not be included in a special sub-account of the Department of Natural Resources State Park Improvement Fund that will be used to administer, maintain and improve Belle Isle. That fund will use revenue from permit fees, rental fees, special events, grants, endowments and other sources, and the balance of it will be transferred to the city upon the termination of the lease.
Under the terms of the lease, the state must provide the mayor and the city council with annual reports of the management of the park. The city or state can terminate the lease for cause if the other party does not live up to the terms. It can also be terminated by both parties at anytime through mutual agreement.
People opposed to the new lease include JoAnn Watson on the City Council and Mayoral Candidate Benny Napoleon.
Napoleon tweeted out the following messages when news of the lease deal first broke Tuesday morning, "I've never supported a lease agreement with State of Michigan for #BelleIsle. I supported opening bid process to entrepreneurs. #Detroit" and "I believe a qualified entrepreneur could lease #BelleIsle to make it a destination with outdoor activities like canoeing & open restaurants."
In addition, 7 Action News has learned the Emergency Manager is also moving toward selling other Detroit City assets.
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