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Bing & Snyder reach deal on Detroit's Belle Isle

3:29 PM, Sep 11, 2012   |    comments
Anna Scripps Whitcomb consevatory at Belle Isle. (Courtesy: Nico Toutenhoofd/Detroit Free Press)
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DETROIT (Det. Free Press) -- Mayor Dave Bing and Gov. Rick Snyder's office have struck a deal to have the state run Belle Isle as a state park for 30 years.

But the deal will face tough scrutiny when it goes before the Detroit City Council.

Bing's office as early as Wednesday could unveil the plan to the public that it negotiated with Snyder's administration to have the Department of Natural Resources operate the island as a state park.

City Council President Charles Pugh said he has not seen the plan but has been told it would propose a 30-year lease for the state, in return for which the DNR would commit spending state park funding to restore luster to the tattered gem.

Bing spokeswoman Naomi Patton declined to comment on the proposal today. Gov. Rick Snyder's office couldn't immediately be reached.

Pedestrians, bicyclists and others would be able to use the island for free, but motorists would be required to have a $10-a-year recreation passport that permits entry to all of Michigan's state parks.

Backers say the state would infuse millions into a park Detroit can't afford to operate on its own amid its historic financial crisis, giving the city access to state park funding it hasn't previously receive because it doesn't have a state park in its borders. That, in turn, would help spur the kind of civic, philanthropic and corporate investments that have been pouring into efforts to revitalize Detroit's riverfront.

Councilman Kwame Kenyatta and Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, who held a rally to protest the proposal last month, saying they don't want the state to take over the park under any terms.

Pugh said the latest proposal limits the state's proposed lease to 30 years, but he said he wants the agreement to contain a way for the city to back out of the lease if a future city officials determine it's necessary.

"Even if we have to pay to get out of it, I still want an out," Pugh said. "I don't want to bind future mayors and councils for a third of a century. I want them to be able to revisit this in 10 years" to decide if the deal remains beneficial.

Still, Pugh said, over the plan "seems like a pretty good proposal."

Other details - including how much money the state would invest, and what improvements it would pay for - weren't being released. Belle Isle's list of needs is long, including lighting and other infrastructure upgrades, bridge repairs and major landscaping improvements, in addition to more frequent mowing and litter pickup.

Pugh said the proposal also includes a grace period to allow residents time to adjust to having to pay the $10 entry fee for those who drive to the island.

"I don't think they're trying to take Belle Isle," Pugh said of concerns that the plan represents a state takeover. "Let's face it. We need to fix Belle Isle. If we don't like the plan, let's go through it with a fine-toothed comb and change what we don't like."

If the council ultimately rejects the proposal, it wasn't clear whether the state and Bing could impose it without the council's approval. Pugh said he doesn't believe the state and the mayor have that authority because the state's emergency manager law, Public Act 4, is suspended pending a statewide referendum on the law in November. The Belle Isle deal was mentioned as part of the consent agreement the city and state approved in April to prevent appointment of an emergency manager in exchange for sweeping state oversight of the city's finances.

By Matt Helm, Detroit Free Press Staff Writer

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