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Belle Isle Park’s conservatory to undergo major renovations, temporarily close starting Nov. 14

The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory – a popular attraction at Belle Isle Park in Detroit – will undergo $10 million in renovations starting Monday, Nov. 14, and requiring closure of the conservatory and grounds. The work completes the final phase of a comprehensive plan to revitalize the upper 60 feet of the 80-foot-tall conservatory dome in one of the nation’s oldest turn-of-the-century glass houses still in existence.

This investment is made possible through:

  • $7.5 million of federal relief funding, from the $250 million federal relief package made available to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to help address a long list of critical needs in Michigan state parks and build a new state park in Flint. These American Rescue Plan Act funds are part of a $4.8 billion infrastructure package outlined in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Building Michigan Together Plan.
  • An additional $2.5 million in private donations raised by the Belle Isle Conservancy.

The renovations

The project starts with inspection of the original steel trusses to see which need repair or replacement, the removal of lead-based paint in the upper 60 feet of the conservatory dome (also known as the Palm House), reglazing the upper dome and updating the conservatory’s ventilation system.

The conservatory and Belle Isle Aquarium originally were designed as one facility and have been one of Belle Isle’s favorite attractions since it first opened in 1904. The conservatory features an indoor display of plants from around the world, outdoor seasonal flora beds and a koi lily pond. In addition to unique horticultural and aquatic collections, the building itself is a draw for architecture and history buffs; it was designed by Albert Kahn, one of Detroit’s most celebrated architects.

The first phase of this comprehensive renovation project, completed in 2019, included the replacement of all 20 original steel trusses.

"Major renovations are needed to stabilize the building to keep the conservatory open for the next century," said Amanda Treadwell, urban field planner for the DNR Parks and Recreation Division. "Although construction will temporarily close this popular attraction, the scope of work is critical to the structural integrity of the dome, public safety and improved conditions for the plant collection."

Treadwell said such capital improvements have been long overdue.

"Besides the recent renovations in 2019, there has not been a major capital investment to the conservatory since the 1950s," she said. "The goal with this project is to address the scope of work currently identified, ensure efficiencies in construction staging and eliminate the need to close the Palm House in the future."

The closure

For the safety of visitors, contractors and staff, the conservatory and outdoor gardens will close to the public starting Monday, Nov. 14. The outdoor gardens will reopen in May 2023, while the conservatory is slated to reopen in May 2024.
Throughout November and December, scaffolding and a second floor will be erected to contain the abatement work and ensure minimal temperatures are maintained for the plant collection. Similarly, an envelope wrap will surround the exterior of the dome for the duration of the work.

All other island attractions will remain open, including the Belle Isle Aquarium (open Fridays through Sundays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and the Piet Oudolf Garden (open during park hours).

Follow our progress

To help the public stay up to date on this and other projects and learn more about the funding and decision-making, the DNR has created a website at Michigan.gov/StateParksProgress, which includes:

  • An interactive map identifying proposed project locations and details, including status (proposed, design/bid phase, construction started or project completed) of each project.
  • FAQs.
  • State parks facts and figures.
  • An evolving photo gallery, including many examples of the work needing to be done.

For more information on the project, contact Amanda Treadwell at 313-269-7430 or TreadwellA@Michigan.gov.


Note to editors: Accompanying photos are available below for download. 

Contact: Amanda Treadwell, 313-269-7430 or TreadwellA@Michigan.gov