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Belle Isle closer to becoming state park under lease signed by city, state

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Belle Isle could soon become Michigan's 102nd state park under a planned partnership between the city of Detroit and state of Michigan. The signed lease, a 30 year-term with two 15-year renewals, will relieve city financial pressures, revitalize the island park and improve the quality of life for city residents.

"One way to revitalize Detroit is by revitalizing Belle Isle, one of Detroit's most iconic places," said Gov. Rick Snyder. "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."

The lease was signed by Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, Keith Creagh, director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, on Monday, and then by Gov. Snyder today, Tuesday, Oct. 1. The lease was then transmitted to the city of Detroit. Under Public Act 436, the law governing emergency managers, the City Council has 10 days to approve or disapprove the lease. If the Council rejects the lease, it has an additional seven days to advance an alternative that would save the same amount of money or more as the lease.

"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."

Under the lease terms, the city will maintain ownership of Belle Isle while the Michigan DNR will assume responsibility for managing Belle Isle according to the standards of other Michigan state parks. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) will assume responsibility for roads and bridges on Belle Isle.

Under the lease, a 90-day transition period will follow, after which the DNR would assume management of the park. The DNR will begin to improve the park immediately following that 90-day transition period based on a detailed one-year phased management plan that is included in the lease.

State management of the island will save Detroit a minimum of $4 million a year. In addition, the state will invest in the island through a variety of sources, including grants, bonds and donations from private organizations willing to partner in the park's revitalization. State investment will amount to between $10 million and $20 million in the first 18-36 months of state management.

A 7-member advisory committee will advise the state on improvements and master planning for the park. The advisory committee will consist of three representatives appointed by the governor; one representative appointed by Detroit City Council; two representatives appointed by the mayor of the city; and one representative to serve as chair jointly appointed by the governor and mayor. At least three members of the committee must be residents of the city of Detroit. The state will work cooperatively with the Belle Isle Conservancy and other partners, in collaboration with the advisory committee, to develop and improve the park.

The Recreation Passport, which offers access to all Michigan state parks and recreation areas across the state for an entire year, will be required for entry to Belle Isle beginning Jan. 1, 2014. The Passport, which currently costs $11 for Michigan residents, is a per-car charge. It does not apply to individuals. Pedestrians, bicyclists and those using public transportation can enter the park for free and will not need the Passport.

Park revenue from permit fees, rental fees, special events, grants, endowments and other sources that derive from Belle Isle – excluding Recreation Passport revenue -- will be placed in a special sub-account in the Department of Natural Resources State Park Improvement Fund to administer, maintain and improve the park. The balance of that sub-account will transfer to the city upon termination of the lease.

The state will provide the mayor of Detroit and Detroit City Council with annual reports updating them on management of the park. The city or state can terminate the lease for cause if the other party fails to fulfill the terms of the lease. The parties can terminate the lease by mutual agreement at any time.

The DNR's Law Enforcement Division and Michigan State Police have collaborated with the Detroit Police Department to ensure a security plan is implemented in an effective, community oriented fashion to ensure a safe and pleasant experience at Belle Isle Park. That includes use of effective community outreach, use of community oriented policing principles and effective environmental design security measures. With the DNR and State Police assuming security responsibilities for the park, Detroit Police will be able to redeploy up to 22 officers to mainland responsibilities.

Belle Isle will operate according to rules consistent with other state parks to ensure the safety of visitors and the quality of the experience. However, the DNR has the ability to tailor these general park rules to the needs of those who use Belle Isle to accommodate the park's unique circumstances.

Under terms of the lease the state will develop an outreach plan to local training agencies and schools to increase the potential for hiring qualified Detroit residents for jobs on the island. The DNR will collaborate with the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation to develop pre-bid workshops for Detroit businesses to help them engage in the state bidding process for contracts on Belle Isle.

"This lease preserves ownership of one of city's crown jewels with Detroiters and creates a partnership with the state to improve and invest in Belle Isle," EM Orr said. "This is yet another example of how the restructuring of Detroit is continuing to improve services for the city's 700,000 residents."

According to DNR Director Keith Creagh, the lease will extend the state's investment in Detroit that includes managing Milliken State Park, providing grants for the Detroit riverfront and transforming the Globe Building into an Outdoor Adventure and Discovery Center. "Together, these attractions will create a gateway to Michigan's world-class natural resources for Detroit residents and all citizens of Michigan."

Click here to see a copy of the Belle Isle lease.