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Summary of public comments

We invited the public to learn about options for the future of the Belle Isle Boathouse via a project webpage on our website and to submit questions and comments via an online form.

This provided a convenient and easy way to capture and analyze public input from visitors, community members, stakeholders and others. The opportunity was not intended to be statistically representative due to respondents voluntarily participating. This opportunity to learn about the options for the boathouse and provide comments was promoted across various platforms, including:

  • A Dec. 5, 2023, news release was sent to subscribers of the DNR’s media, boating and Belle Isle email lists in the metro Detroit region.
  • The information was also shared on our social media channels and via various news media outlets. More than 2,000 comments/questions were collected via the online comment form through Dec. 31, 2023. A summary of answers to common questions was shared on the project webpage Monday, Jan. 22, 2024.

Survey data

What best describes your interest in Belle Isle Park?

When asked "What best describes your interest in Belle Isle Park,” the majority of respondents (87% or 1,809 respondents) said their primary interest in Belle Isle Park was as a park visitor (general recreation). The remaining respondents (13% or 266 respondents) answered "other" to their interest in Belle Isle Park and some identified their connection as Detroit residents, architects, former rowers and Michigan residents and taxpayers.

Bar graph showing responses to the question, "What best describes your interest in Belle Isle Park? (select all that apply)." One thousand eight hundred nine answered, "park visitor (general recreation)." Two hundred sixty-six answered, "Other." One hundred sixty-two answered, "member of Friends of Detroit rowing." One hundred fifty answered, "member of another private club." Ninety-three said, "member of a non-governmental organization." Twenty answered, "representative of the governmental organization."

Have you ever attended a gathering or participated in an activity within the boathouse?

When respondents were asked if they had ever attended a gathering or participated in an activity within the boathouse, just over 50% answered “yes.”

Pie chart showing responses to the question, “Have you ever attended a gathering or participated in an activity within the Boathouse?” 53% of respondents answered “Yes.” 47% of respondents answered “No.”

What type of gathering or activity have you participated in within the boathouse?

Those who answered “yes” were asked to select the type of gathering or activity they had attended from a pre-populated list. Most respondents reported attending Friends of Detroit Rowing or Detroit Boat Club activities or events (31%) and private events (29%). Of the 126 (7%) who answered “other,” frequent answers included tours, rowing and weddings.

Bar graph showing responses to the question, "What type of gathering or activity have you participated in within the boathouse? (select all that apply)." Five hundred twenty-nine answered, "Friends of Detroit rowing or Detroit Boat Club activity or event." Five hundred answered, "Private event." Three hundred forty-two answered, "Public event." One hundred twenty-six answered, "Other." One hundred sixteen answered, "Private meeting." Ninety answered, "Public meeting."

Wayne County zip codes

Respondents were asked to share the zip code of their primary residence: 1,556 (75%) participants chose to do so.

The highest response rates came from Wayne County (49%), especially:

  • City of Detroit (21%)
  • Grosse Pointe (17%)

Other high response rates came from the surrounding counties in southeast Michigan:

  • Oakland County (17%)
  • Macomb County (9%)
  • Washtenaw County (4%)

A small percentage of respondents indicated a primary zip code beyond southeast Michigan and from other states. The heat maps show the concentrations of respondents’ residences.

Heat map of Wayne County zip codes. Blue shows areas with fewer responses. Red shows areas with a higher number of responses. The northeast portion of Wayne County had the highest response rates.

Michigan zip codes

The Michigan heat map shows the highest number of responses were from the Detroit Metropolitan Area. Note, some responses were received from outside the scope of this map.

Heat map of the state of Michigan. Blue indicates areas with fewer responses. Red indicates areas with a higher number of responses. The heat map indicated the highest number of responses in the Detroit Metropolitan Area.

Frequently asked questions

The comment form offered an option to ask questions about the boathouse. There were 557 questions recorded. You can find answers to the most frequently asked questions on our FAQ page.

Belle Isle Boathouse FAQs

Survey comments

Respondents were also able to record any comments they had on the future of the boathouse: 1,429 comments were recorded.

Nearly 80% of the comments supported rehabilitating the boathouse, with many citing the importance of the history of the building to the City of Detroit. Various funding and adaptive reuse ideas were suggested.

The other 20% of the comments expressed support for the demolition of the boathouse, recognizing the state of disrepair, high cost of rehabilitation, and the potential to redevelop the space for community benefit. A few suggested saving at least part of the building in lieu of total rehabilitation.

Below are 20 randomly selected comments:

  • I strongly urge the DNR to preserve the Boathouse and, with state/federal funds together with businesses, individual donors, and non-profits, rehabilitate the building. We cannot afford to lose another historic building. Detroit knows how to preserve and reuse old, deteriorated buildings. DO NOT TEAR DOWN THE BOATHOUSE.
  • Please work as above to repair the roof and visit the structure to save the clubhouse from demolition. Once this piece of history is gone. It can never be replaced. It was a beautiful building and can be seen again.
  • Save the boat house.
  • This is such a historic building to the area- and I realize many buildings are in major disrepair and unable to be rescued- such a shame in general - this is a Detroit icon not only for its people and future generations but for historical significance! Every effort must be used to save it so the following generations will appreciate and revere its worth and meaning in the community!
  • Instead of complete demolition, maybe salvage portions of the facade and incorporate them into the new structure. That has been since in other Detroit properties and here in South Bend.
  • Please restore the boathouse! Belle Isle is a treasure!
  • Please don't destroy Detroit's history, thinking it is the easiest fiscal choice; make a bigger effort to find ways to keep the building even if the restoration will be sometime in the future.
  • Detroit history once again will be removed instead of restored. Realties suck.
  • I have rowed out of the Detroit Boat Club since the 8th grade. I used to have a team, one where we could have the stability of a locker room, showers, weight room, commons, and a dining hall for gatherings. When that was taken from us, only then did I and many others realize how much we had. As the days grew colder and the morning practices rolled along, meeting under a small shade outside made us miss the comfort of the boathouse. Seeing the novices come in and welcoming them as I was, I want a future that is best for them. Even when I am far away in college, I want what is best for my brothers back home. I want them to enjoy the safety and the luxury I once had.
  • This is a fantastic historic building that represents a rich history of rowing in the US. Rowing was once the most popular sport in the USA. Please work to restore this building and put it to good use.
  • I totally respect the state's position as custodian of funds, but I am unable to support the demolition when viable options exist. Possibly, downsizing restoration to viable portions of the structure would minimize restoration costs.
  • Other shuddered properties like the St. Clair Inn have undergone renovation and become a viable wedding reception destination (and hotel). The structure has demonstrated that it is conducive to hosting nearly 50 annual receptions for this application. It is a viable means of financial self-sufficiency. As a finance major and CEO in Detroit, I must often set my emotions aside and look at hard numbers while balancing the desires of my employees and clients. Yours is not an easy job either, but I strongly encourage you to consider this structure's value to the community when balancing your options. Thank you for your consideration.
  • Suggestion to turn it into a bed and breakfast or an event rental hall.
  • Rehab the Boat House, it is a Detroit Icon
  • You have a responsibility to preserve history and protect this building for future generations. Millions now mean nothing to the life cycle of a 120-year-old building but will mean everything to a 200+ year-old building when future generations are enjoying what you took steps to protect. Invest the money. You waste it constantly on far worse.
  • The DNR has done its best to find private dollars and public monies to begin restoration of the property. What we need now is to tap the developers and investors in Detroit and elsewhere who will not be daunted by adaptively reusing the Boathouse. They regularly bring Detroit buildings that are in MUCH worse condition than the Boathouse back to life. This is a stunning building that someone in the private sector attuned to Detroit will know can be marketed.
  • I would be interested to know how I might be able to assist the group(s) who think the building should be preserved.
  • The boathouse is an important part of the history of Detroit and Belle Isle and should be renovated and adapted for new use without having the entire cost fall to the taxpayers. Suggestions for adaptive reuse that could be privately funded could include an Events Center, food and beverage venue, or waterfront boutique hotel. The ownership of the land and building could be retained by the state with a low-cost, 100-year lease for the operator.
  • Removal of structure and area repurposed with community input involved. The additional 40k would be better and more efficiently spent on immediate updates to the park and future improvements and restoration upkeep on safer historic buildings and structures throughout Belle Isle.
  • Tear it down. It is beyond economical repair.

We appreciate everyone who took the time to submit questions and comments on the future of the Belle Isle Boathouse.