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Belle Isle plan displeases some Detroit City Council members

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Detroit City Council Member JoAnn Watson (Credit: WJBK) Detroit City Council Member JoAnn Watson (Credit: WJBK)

DETROIT (WJBK) -- Detroit City Council members weighed in Tuesday on a proposal that would have Michigan operate Belle Isle as a state park for at least 30 years.

"The most single, significant, cultural identity, iconic trademark in the city is Belle Isle," said council member JoAnn Watson.

Handing the keys to Belle Isle to the State of Michigan was hitting deep chords with Watson. The governor's deputies were sent to pitch the idea on the front lines of city council. They insisted the city would still own it, but it would be run by the state under a lease. It would save the city $6 million a year. The state said it would spend as much as $20 million to improve the park.

  JoAnn Watson
Detroit City Council member JoAnn Watson expresses her opinion on a proposed Belle Isle plan Tuesday.
(Credit: WJBK)

"Under the proposed lease, Belle Isle would be managed and operated as a state park. As a state park, Belle Isle becomes eligible for key funds that the state has and resources that otherwise would not be available to us for Belle Isle," said governor appointee Rodney Stokes.

The proposal has only been on the table for about three weeks, and council argues that is not enough time. One of the main objections council members have is the term of the agreement, which could be up to 90 years because of an automatic renewal feature. It begins with a 30 year term that they say is too long.

"I feel like that should be revisited after every decade because... we will not be broke forever," said City Council President Charles Pugh.

Ideally the state would like to have this deal wrapped up by October 1, the start of their new fiscal year, but many of the council members argue they don't want to be pushed. They also ask why aren't there other pressing issues the state would like to tackle like public safety and lighting.

"Every single one of these projects is arguably far more pressing than Belle Isle and could also potentially produce greater revenue and also greater savings for the City of Detroit," said council member Ken Cockrel, Junior.

One council member, Kwame Kenyatta, argues that Detroit hasn't been given a chance to propose its own ideas of what to do with the park. He was so upset, he boycotted the meeting altogether.

"And to now talk about giving away the entire island, something the citizens pay for, that we own, you don't give away something you own because you can't keep it clean. Keep it clean," Watson said.

City council is hoping the state will consider rewriting some of the language in that proposed lease so the deal can be revisited sooner than 30 years. There are also questions as to how Belle Isle will be policed.

By: Roop Raj

Roop Raj is a weekend anchor and reporter for Fox 2 News. You can email him at Roop.Raj@foxtv.com.

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