Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Detroit City Council: Belle Isle Proposal Dead in the Water

Detroit City Council: Belle Isle proposal dead in the water

1:45 PM, September 18, 2012
By Matt Helms
Detroit Free Press Staff Writer

The City Council today said a proposal for the state of Michigan to lease and manage Belle Isle, Detroit’s signature park, was pretty much dead in the water because it lacked any guarantees that the city would benefit from the deal.

Just a week after a press conference that Mayor Dave Bing and Gov. Rick Snyder held to promote the agreement, the council this morning made it clear that the proposal was nowhere ready to be addressed by the council, let alone quickly approved.

Councilman James Tate said the deal proposed by the state -- under which Michigan would lease Belle Isle for 30 years, with options for two more 30-year renewals in exchange for what Snyder called significant improvements to the island – lacked far too many details for the council to even consider it.

He said he resented the governor’s office saying over the weekend that it wouldn’t be able to do a thorough analysis of what Belle Isle’s needs are and what the state might be willing to spend, without having the lease deal signed first.

“At this moment, with what we have in front of us, I’m an absolute no,” Tate said, calling the lease “beyond disrespectful” and a “terrible attempt at shoving it down people’s throats.”

Almost the entire council weighed in against the deal, saying they were being made out to be the “bad guy” in the situation for questioning the agreement.

Representatives for Snyder and Bing weren’t immediately available for comment this afternoon.

Councilwoman JoAnn Watson asked the city’s Law Department to issue an opinion on whether the deal was legal. Watson said she didn’t believe the city could entertain a long-term lease of Belle Isle at no cost to the state, which would not pay rent but instead pledged millions in improvements to the island, details of which were not spelled out in a version of the lease given to the city council and the media just after Snyder and Bing’s press conference last week.

Council President Charles Pugh accused Bing and Snyder of rallying support for the deal before giving the council a look at it, to deliberately make the council look like they’re being obstructionist for questioning it.

Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins said it would be “a dereliction of duty” for the council to approve the lease agreement with no guarantees that the state would spend money it’s pledged.

“It’s infuriating,” Jenkins said.

The council initially was to have discussed the lease deal in a meeting on Monday, but it was cancelled after state officials said they wouldn’t be able to attend the meeting at that time.

The council rescheduled the meeting as part of its regular weekly Tuesday meeting next week, but Pugh said the Belle Isle proposal might be removed from the agenda if the state isn’t more forthcoming with details this week.

Contact Matt Helms: mhelms@freepress.com, @matthelms or 313-222-1450.

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