Belle Isle: A gem waiting to be bought

Belle Isle has been in the news a lot lately. The recent budget cuts in the city of Detroit has forced the city council to make drastic decisions, including cutting city employees, fire and police forces, and up until recently, possibly leasing the island park, Belle Isle, to the state of Michigan.

The first proposal from the state to the city was 99 years. Outrageous. Luckily, that idea was quickly thrown out. But still, the city needs the money and the help. Belle Isle is the largest city-owned island park in the country, and that is definitely something to take pride in. It tells us that after all these years, Detroit is able to keep control of it, even with drastic problems in city government.

Unfortunately, the city is under a terrible administration, as is Wayne County, but that’s another story for another day. Let’s see, what’s wrong with Belle Isle:

The roads are falling apart. Crews even had to do a replacement during the Belle Isle Grand Prix in the summer, which made the city of Detroit look awful. On national television, the city was showcasing a great race, and it crumbled in their hands like a soft cookie on a warm day.

Luckily, the road will be replaced in time for next year’s Grand Prix. But there are other problems, like the partially empty zoo on the island and the pavilions that are falling apart. Restrooms are scarce. There used to be kayaking and picnics on the island, too. Picnics still happen but the island becomes very messy come Monday as there is trash everywhere.

I’ve been to Central Park in New York City. People make a living off of that park. Giving tours on bike, small eateries, people just relaxing, right in the middle of a bustling city — the most famous in the world. I’d love to see Belle Isle be like that. Of course, that’s not going to happen immediately. First, people need to come and live in the city. Maybe it’ll happen someday, but for now I can dream.

The good news is that there are some good parts of Belle Isle, parts worth saving. The once empty aquarium reopened last Saturday There’s also the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, the Detroit Yacht Club, the Detroit Boat Club (partially empty), a golf course, the James Scott Memorial Fountain, Belle Isle Casino, the Dossin Great Lakes Museum and some spacious athletic fields.

So many great things exist on Belle Isle and it’s sad knowing that the City Council denied a 30-year lease to the state. Granted, there wasn’t much information on what would be upgraded, and I would love to know what would be upgraded, how much, when, etc. If the city wants to attract more people to live and work in Detroit, they need to collaborate, even if it’s tough on both sides. But unfortunately for now, Belle Isle will sit, a gem waiting to be bought.

To read the original post that appeared in the third issue of The Michigan Journal, on Tuesday, September 25, 2012, go to www.michiganjournal.org

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