Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Parts of the Belle Isle Lease

Governor Rick Snyder and Mayor Dave Bing announced an agreement whereby the State of Michigan will lease Belle Isle from the City of Detroit; turning it into a state park. As with so many other things in life, the devil of this matter is in the details. Their announcement was made with great fanfare and, quite frankly, included a release of the worst Photoshop photos ever. (Example below.)

Official Rendering of What Belle Isle Will Eventually Look Like. No, Really.
The full text of the lease is available here. I thought I would take a moment to run through the parts of this deal that are good, those that are bad, and those that are just plain ugly.

The Good
This deal will definitely free up cash in the City of Detroit's budget. This revenue could be used for improving core services in the neighborhoods.

There will be some, although unspecified, improvements to Belle Isle. That's always nice.

The lease does commit the State of Michigan to negotiating in good faith with the Belle Isle Conservancy.

Section 2.9 of the lease does call for an annual audit of park revenue. This includes any funds from grants, special events, private leases of the park, payments from vendors, and such. This does not, however, include revenue from the $10 annual pass that visitors will have to get if they want to use the park.

The Bad
This lease does not provide any specific assurances as to what upgrades the State of Michigan will make nor does it promise when those upgrades will be made.

Many of the upgrades that will be made will be paid for using funds that the Michigan Department of Transportation would have otherwise appropriated for the rest of Detroit (see section 2.3.2 of the agreement). In other words, money could have been otherwise used to fill in some of the umpteen potholes in this town will now be used for improvements on Belle Isle.

There is also the fact that there is absolutely no assurance that revenue from the $10 annual pass that we'll have to buy in order to use Belle Isle will not find its way to another state park.

Finally, there is the fact that while this lease does free up cash that could be used for improving core services in the neighborhoods, there is no assurance that it actually will happen. In fact, when one considers Mayor Bing's track record over the past 4 years, it is doubtful that this will actually happen.

The Ugly
Section 4.3 of the lease specifies that the City of Detroit can terminate the lease and regain full control of Belle Isle if we aren't happy with the way the State of Michigan is administering the park. The City will have to give 18 months advance notice to said effect and commit to 3 negotiating sessions in an effort to resolve whatever issues have prompted this desire to terminate the lease.

In the final analysis, how good of deal this turns out to be will depend entirely on what improvements the State of Michigan decides to make beyond those using Detroit allocation from MDOT, if they make any such improvements at all.
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