Belle Isle surged back into the spotlight in recent weeks after a Metro Detroit developer made an outlandish proposal: Sell the city park to private investors for $1 billion and secede the island from the U.S. to form a corporate utopia where taxes are near nil.
Many Detroiter’s guttural reaction to the billion dollar offer, presented by Bingham Farms developer Rodney Lockwood in the form of a futuristic fiction novel, was a granite hard “no”. Not surprising, since just months ago city council rejected a much tamer idea presented by Gov. Rick Snyder: lease Belle Isle to the state at no cost for 30 years while Detroit works to beef up its bare-bones finances.
While Lockwood’s far-fetched idea is highly unlikely to come to fruition, it makes the state’s offer seem like a very modest proposal. It also offers a peek at what could become of the island if the city plunges into bankruptcy before securing a deal with the state to maintain the island.
Despite the scathing criticism of Lockwood’s plan, $1 billion is nothing to yawn at. It’s a considerable sum for a city with an annual operating budget of $3.1 billion. It’s also the only reason the bizarre proposal is getting any airtime at all. Money is on the table. A lot of it. And when money talks, people—even opponents—listen.
That’s exactly what happened at the Detroit Athletic Club yesterday as Lockwood shared his vision for Belle Isle with a wide range of Michigan business leaders and elected officials. But not everyone, even staunch free market supporters, liked everything they heard.
The Detroit Free Press reports:
“Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, told developer Rodney Lockwood and his partners that they hadn't done enough to explain how their idea for a wealthy, virtually tax-free enclave on Belle Isle would benefit Detroit itself. ‘Having rich neighbors doesn't make you rich,’ he said, pointing to the example of upscale Grosse Pointe next to Detroit, one of the poorest cities in the nation.”
Detroit officials also doubted the plan would benefit Detroit.
George Jackson, head of the Detroit Economic Growth Council (DEGC) said that he didn’t see how the plan would boost Detroit’s development. Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown flatly stated, “It will not work.”
Such a statement raises a searingly important question: What will work?
The answer could come as early as next week.
The Detroit News spoke with city council members who confirmed the lease is likely to pass council soon: Brown told The News:
"We're still working on issues about security, but we can get it done. The votes on City Council are there — they have actually been there for a while." City Councilman James Tate said: "The majority of the issues that my colleagues and the community had are addressed in the new proposed lease…[but] it's important to me that we have a public hearing on the matter to weigh in on the issue."
Councilman James Tate said the council votes are secured:
"The majority of the issues that my colleagues and the community had are addressed in the new proposed lease," Tate said. But "it's important to me that we have a public hearing on the matter to weigh in on the issue."
The revamped lease proposal cuts the lease time down from 30 to ten years and the city could opt out after each ten-year interval. The city would retain ownership of the park while reaping the benefits of state funds to operate the 895 acre island in the Detroit river.
As for the fantastical corporate proposal for the island, it may never get far off the ground. But it does paint a picture of what could happen if naysayers keep disputing state intervention with 895-acre park without offering any alternatives.
"I have no problem selling Belle Isle," Michigan Chamber of Commerce’s Baruah told the Detroit News regarding Lockwood’s plan, "But frankly, I don't think you are making a great case for people outside the island."
It’s Election Day and for many who have been tuned in to the political races and proposal controversy today offers a welcomed chance end the campaign storm by give the final word—or vote—to end the dizzying campaign madness.
While most candidate races will be put to rest before midnight (barring another epic indecision on votes cast), other issues that have been awaiting a vote won’t quietly dart off into the sunset once voters say “yes” or “no”. In fact, the vote will only trigger an unprecedented downpour of litigation and power scraping.
Take the ballot proposals for example. In Detroit, there are 18 of them on the two-page ballot. While some of them are not controversial (millage renewals, etc.), many of them are.
The statewide proposals alone will lather up enough lawsuits and frenzy after the vote to make us dizzy all over again.
Proposal 1, the proposal asking voters whether we should keep the State’s emergency manager law, for instance, will bring enough litigation from either side, whether voters say yes or no. If voters approve the emergency manager law, political action groups that gad fought it before will keep on fighting it, calling it undemocratic and trying to find ways to block it or get it tossed in court.
If voters strike down Prop 1, the chaos within cities and school systems will only get worse. People can expect lawsuits of all sorts over wage cuts, political power, officials, lawsuits between the city and the state, you name it.
If we look at the path as to how each of these issues even got to the ballot we will see a trail of tangled litigation. And it won’t end at the polls.
It’s not just litigation that will continue after the vote on proposals, many of the proposals, especially proposal three that would pose a constitutional mandate to have businesses get 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025, will put the State legislature to work, combing out the details of the proposals and finding the verbiage and structure to fit into the constitution.
The battle over Proposal 6, better known as the bridge proposal, may not stop at the vote, either.
The Detroit Free Press’ John Ghallager writes:
“Canada would be paying the estimated $2.1-billion cost of the new crossing, it's unclear whether the constitutional amendment contained in Proposal 6 against spending state funds without a statewide vote would affect building it.”
But just because certain issues may continue to be debated and litigated after the vote does not mean our votes don’t count. In fact, voters are carrying the weight of the decision; it’s the details that will get hashed out after in the legislature and perhaps through litigation.
So if you haven’t already done so, get to the polls and decide for yourself.
Check out this Voter Guide if you need a last minute refresher on the issues and the candidates.
Bing Put Horse Before Cart on Belle Isle Deal
Two weeks ago Governor Rick Snyder and Mayor Dave Bing made a big announcement: The two had come to an agreement on a plan to restore Belle Isle Park to its former beauty through a 30-year lease to the state.
The plan then went Detroit City Council members for a vote. But it didn’t take them long to realize that the lease was missing crucial documents: four legal exhibits that aimed to describe major aspects of the deal.
But it wasn’t just the council that got incomplete documents. Mayor Bing didn’t have them either. No one in the city had.
Deputy Mayor Kirk Lewis revealed at a City Council hearing on Tuesday that the administration had not received the complete lease from the State when Bing threw his full support behind the transfer of Belle Isle two weeks back.
“We received the documents the same time you did,” Lewis said when council members asked why it took nine days from the plan’s announcement to get a full copy of the lease.
Rodney Stokes, an urban advisor to Snyder, apologized to the Council for taking so long to get a complete lease document to the city. “I take full responsibly for that,” he said, adding that he was out of town.
“That just doesn’t work. That’s not how you do business,” said Council member Ken Cockrel, Jr.
Now that the council has the full lease, all nine members agreed that the document’s language is riddled with holes and vague ideas.
Acting as a unified team, the Council took turns pointing out flaws in the Belle Isle plan.
But they did not say they were against a lease to the state. The Council’s main complaint was that they wanted more specifics in the lease so they knew what to expect.
Council President Pro-Tem Gary Brown said any agreement with the state will have to take into consideration that Belle Isle can’t be operated like every other state park.
“I shudder to think what would happen if we bring park rangers to Belle Isle,” Brown told State and DNR officials at the hearing. “This would be the largest urban state park. You can’t treat it like the other 101 state parks.”
Every good story has a bad guy. It keeps people reading. That’s why it’s easier to dish out criticism than praise.
But there are two sides to every story.
Today, instead of criticizing the Governor Snyder or Mayor Dave Bing for not fully communicating with the Detroit City Council before holding a big shiny press conference about a floppy proposal for Belle Isle Park, I’m going to try the tricky side, the perhaps less mainstream, side of this one and support the Council members for opposing this excuse for a proposal.
Yes, the council opposes the Belle Isle deal, but it’s not for crazy, reactionary reasons like many people have assumed. It’s not because of a proposed entrance fee to the island, or because they feel that the state trying to pull some kind of enemy takeover. In fact, they want what we all want for Belle Isle: For it to be a safe, beautiful place for people to go and enjoy the outdoors and other attractions.
It’s being rejected by the Council because the proposal that they were given to vote on is not complete. It is missing large chunks of key information.
Gov. Snyder was right. This isn’t Detroit v. Michigan; it’s Detroit, Michigan.
We’re all in this together. So why hold out of information?
After reading the proposal for Belle Isle (exactly as it was presented to City Council) I understand why the Council members plan to vote it down.
In short, it’s not a proposal at all. A proposal when something is proposed. Specifics are given. Information is shared so that the people deciding on the proposal can vote whether or not it’s a good idea.
One blaring example of this comes at the very beginning where the lease document says it has five exhibits—important, key information about the agreement—attached. However of the exhibits listed on the proposal, only one is actually physically attached to the proposed lease.
“List of Exhibits. The following Exhibits are attached to and made a part of this Lease:
Exhibit A: Legal Description [of property]
Exhibit B: Identification of Roads and Bridges
Exhibit C: Memorandum of Understanding between the City and MDOT
Exhibit D: Memorandum of Understanding between the City and DNR Regarding the
Belle Isle: Greenhouses
Exhibit E: Phased Management Approach of Belle Isle dated July 2012”
On the lease, proposal A, a legal description of Belle Isle, is the only thing that is actually attached. It's the only exhibit the council would have to go by before making a major decision on whether or not to grant Belle Isle to the State of Mcihgian for 30 years (or more).
“This is no way to conduct business,” Councilman James Tate said in a meeting this week regarding the State's proposal. He said he called State officials three times this week seeking the information and had still not received those exhibits of the lease.
Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for Snyder told The Detroit News: "it's premature to discuss specifics" :
"Until we have an agreement with the city, we can't do the needed and detailed analysis and structural and cost assessments of the buildings and facilities," she said.
That poses a catch 22: The council can’t, in good faith, agree blindly to something as big as Belle Isle’s management and the state won't fork over details until they have control over the Island.
It's a hot mess, but it doesn't have to be. It's set up so the Council looks they they're the bottle neck to the dealm but the Council shouldn't take the fall for this one. They're not stalling progress like some have opined, rather they are doing their job. That is, to make informed decisions on behalf of the people of Detroit.
Will Detroit grant Belle Isle to the state in a 30-year lease? Possibly. But we need to know what the plan is.
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