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Belle Isle Boathouse information

The DNR is reviewing options for the deteriorated Belle Isle Boathouse, located on the Detroit River at Belle Isle Park, and has created this project page for those interested in learning more about proposed options and associated costs. We expect to make a decision regarding the future of the boathouse in spring 2024.

Letters of intent, selected applicants

On Feb. 20, 2024, the DNR announced that letters of intent from interested parties who could outline viable proposals for potential rehabilitation would be accepted through March 29, 2024.

After vetting all submissions, three letters of intent were accepted. Those selected applicants were then invited to submit formal proposals by 3 p.m. Wednesday, July 31, 2024. After the initial meeting of selected applicants, formal questions were submitted. A summary of public comments and answers to common questions is available. After the initial meeting of selected applicants, formal questions were submitted. Those questions and answers are now available.

Questions and answers for selected applicants »

Public comment process - summary and FAQs

In December 2023, we invited visitors, community members, stakeholders and others to share feedback and questions via an online comment form in. A summary of public comments and answers to common questions is available.

Read the summary View the FAQs

About the Belle Isle Boathouse

The Detroit Boat Club, a private club with facilities on Belle Isle since 1891, built the current boathouse (not to be confused with the Detroit Yacht Club) in 1902 using fireproof materials as previous boathouses were lost due to fire. It is one of the oldest concrete structures in the country. However, the building has become susceptible to water damage due to lack of maintenance over the past several decades, with a 15-foot section of a deteriorating porch slab collapsing in early 2022.

In 2015, the Friends of Detroit Rowing entered into a lease with the DNR to continue their rowing programming at the boathouse. The lease acknowledged significant investment and a robust physical assessment would be needed:

  • 2006 cost estimates: $20 million
  • 2019 cost estimates: $43 million

To date, little community interest and a very small amount of private investment has been secured to stabilize the facility.

Investments in the boathouse since 2014

Pie chart showing DNR investment in boathouse of $405,000 verses private of $200,000

Since the DNR assumed management of Belle Isle in 2014, a total of $604,607 has been invested in the boathouse. Of that:

  • 67% ($405,000) was from public funds (assessments).
  • 33% ($199,607) was from private funds (roof repairs, new boiler, windows, west upper porch wall removal, misc.).

Private fundraising efforts over the past decade have been unsuccessful in raising a sufficient amount of money to rehabilitate and maintain the building.

Overall Belle Isle investments

Pie chart showing public investment of $101.2 million verses private investment of $14.7 million

Since 2014, there has been very little private funding for Belle Isle overall.

Of the total investment in capital outlay (the funds used to acquire, upgrade or repair property and buildings) on the island, the majority comes from public funds (which includes state funds and federal grants):

  • Public funding: over $101 million (87%)
  • Private funding: under $15 million (13%)

Belle Isle historic structures investment

The DNR has put a strong focus on preserving public historic facilities on the island, investing more than $52 million into a variety of historic structures over the years. Below are some examples of some of these investments:

  • James Scott Memorial Fountain

    Investment - $8 million

    • Accessible ramp
    • Electric and mechanical upgrades
    • Operational manual developed
    • Structural assessment and repairs
    The James Scott Memorial Fountain lit up at night on Belle Isle

    Belle Isle Casino

    Investment - $7.6 million

    • Roof replacement
    • Fire suppression replacement
    • Elevator modernization
    • Loggia resurfacing
    The casino building on Belle Isle

    Belle Isle Aquarium and Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory

    Investment - $27.5 million

    • Building assessments
    • HVAC engineering for aquarium and heating and ventilation for conservatory
    • Conservatory structural repairs
    • Aquarium roof repairs
    • Sewer line replacement
    • Sidewalk replacement
    The Conservatory with the sunrise in background and tulips in foreground

Timeline of degradation and assessments

The City of Detroit, Friends of Detroit Rowing and the DNR commissioned several building and site assessments throughout the past 16 years. The two most recent were done in 2019 and again in 2022 (after the building was condemned).

2019 building assessment

The Friends of Detroit Rowing contracted SmithGroup/HR&A to prepare a physical assessment of the boathouse building and site and to develop a master plan to address the sustainability of the facility. Prior to initiating the study, the boathouse experienced significant flooding from the Detroit River. While this was an unfortunate occurrence it helped to underscore some of the unique challenges confronting the boathouse.

Read the SmithGroup assessment

2022 building assessment

The boathouse suffered a major setback when a 15-foot section of a deteriorating porch slab collapsed due to water damage. That, combined with several other issues (significant deterioration including a caved-in roof, falling exterior stucco, deteriorated steel and concrete structural members and other structural needs) lead the DNR to condemn the building. This prompted a second assessment, done by MacMillan Associates Inc/WTA Architects.

Read the MacMillan/WTA Architects assessment

Options

With limited funds available, the DNR faces the difficult decision of investing in a portion of the necessary structural repairs needed without a long-term solution or removing the building and repurposing the space.

Option one - structure removal: $2 million

$2 million in funding was approved by the Michigan legislature to address the boathouse. This amount would cover the removal of the boathouse. The scope of work required includes the following:

  • Hazardous material abatement
  • Building removal

Option two - rehabilitation: $43 million

As shown in the assessments from 2019 and 2022, a significant amount of funding would be necessary to rehabilitate the building, including:

  • Site stabilization and remediation: $12,053,000
  • Exterior envelope remediation and rehabilitation: $10,535,000
  • Interior building systems upgrade: $13,276,000
  • Interior rehabilitation/renovation: $6,854,000
  • Final site and landscape improvements: $1,182,000

Total: $43,900,000

Developed by SmithGroup 2019

Decision criteria

When deciding the future of the boathouse, the health, safety and welfare of park visitors and staff must be taken into consideration, as well as fiscal responsibility for managing all park infrastructure needs.

Boathouse repairs represent just one of many proposed projects under consideration for long-term feasibility at Belle Isle Park. Overall, it’s estimated that at least $200 million is needed to address critical repairs island-wide, including the following:

  • Belle Isle Aquarium and Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory (1904)
  • James Scott Memorial Fountain (1920)
  • Athletic Shelter (1899)
  • Belle Isle Beach house
  • Comfort station, restroom updates

Timeline for decision

Funding timeline

  • The state legislature approved $2 million to address the Belle Isle Boathouse.
  • This funding is American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding and therefore has strict timelines to be encumbered and spent.
  • The $2 million must be allocated by end of 2024 and spent by end of 2026.