Traverse City Record-Eagle


November 13, 2013

Michigan board approves state lease of Belle Isle

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan will operate and maintain Detroit's 985-acre Belle Isle as a state park under a lease agreement approved Tuesday by a state board that rejected an alternative proposed by the City Council.

The city in bankruptcy proceedings will save up to $6 million a year throughout the 30-year deal. Gov. Rick Snyder has pledged to invest $10 million to $20 million in the first three years of state management of the island, which sits in the middle of the Detroit River and will become Michigan's 102nd state park.

The City Council killed the new lease after it was signed Oct. 1 and came up with a 10-year alternative designed to get more assurances that the state will definitely make promise improvements. But the Local Emergency Financial Assistance Loan, comprised of three members of Snyder's administration, unanimously backed the 30-year lease that also is supported by Detroit's state-appointed emergency manager, Kevyn Orr.

"I think the longer lease gives us a better opportunity to actually get the improvements done," said Nancy Duncan, chief deputy state budget director and a member of the loan board. "There will be savings for 30 years whereas the proposal from the council only guarantees savings for 10 years."

Michigan's emergency manager law tasked the board with determining which proposal "best serves the interest" of Detroit residents.

Belle Isle has beaches, ball fields, playgrounds, a small golf course and a rich history. It once had a zoo with seals, and was a training ground for World War II troops. The park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who had a hand in New York's Central Park, and its conservatory and aquarium were designed by noted architect Albert Kahn.

The state budget sets aside $2.5 million for management of the park, and state police have designated additional troopers to handle security, freeing up 22 city police officers to patrol other parts of crime-ridden Detroit.

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