Saturday, October 14, 2006

My Thoughts on the Sale of Rouge Park

Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick has proposed selling 5 parcels of land in River Rouge Park. For the most part, those parcels consist of everything in the park that is south of Joy Road. I think Mayor Kilpatrick deserves a certain amount of credit for trying to hold down the costs of maintaining the park and secure additional moneys for a cash-strapped city.

However, and this is the important part, I believe that his adminstration is going about it in totally the wrong way. His proposal calls for selling too much of the park, in too dense of a concentration and does it in totally the wrong way.

Housing can be developed in Rouge Park without harming the park itself. Almost every golf course in the United States has houses near it. There's no reason why we can't build golf courses near the Rouge Park Golf Course.

Commericial development can happen in Rouge Park without harming the park itself. Central Park in New York has a restaurant in it. The Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit has an Au Bon Pain in the middle of it. During its heydey, Belle Isle had snack shops on the island park. There's no reason why can't have a restaurant or two operate inside Rouge Park.

Also, it always struck me as odd that Rouge Park has 8 miles of bicycle trails as well as the only mountain bike trail in Wayne County - yet there's no place near it where you can rent a bike or get a bike that you own repaired.

Of course, while I'm on the subject of things that Rouge Park has, I should point out that the park also has:
  • 14 regulation baseball diamonds;
  • 6 basketball courts;
  • 11 outdoor tennis courts;
  • 2 football fields;
  • 1 soccer field;
  • 2 miles of fitness trails;
  • 18 holes of golf; and
  • 3 outdoor swimming pools.
Think about it. It has all of those resources yet there isn't a single sporting goods store within a one-mile radius of the park.

Housing and commericial development could, in my opinion, make Rouge Park an even better place - if it is done properly.

As a result, I don't believe the solution is for Detroit to rush into selling it this land. Rather, I think we should establish a private conservancy to manage Rouge Park and transfer control of the park to that conservancy.

Private conservancies have done a lot of good in terms of managing Detroit's most precious jewels. They bring together the best of the public, private and non-profit sectors to provide stewardship for a key resource.

The Detroit riverfront has been reborn thanks to the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. They have worked to reinvent Detroit's riverfront, from the Ambassador Bridge to the Belle Isle Bridge. Their work has produced some great results that have garnered national attention.

The Detroit 300 Conservancy has assumed control of Campus Martius Park; transforming and rebuilding a historic part of downtown Detroit. They host some terrific outdoor events throughout the year - from concerts and movies in the summer to ice skating in the winter.

My point is that a private conservancy can accomplish things that a traditional government agency or non-profit could not do. It has become a proven model for success when it comes to managing Detroit's crown jewels.

A private conservancy has worked well for the Detroit Riverfront and Campus Martius Park. It can work just as well for River Rouge Park - bringing a sense of health and vitality back to the area that, quite frankly, has been absent for far too long.

It's for this reason that I believe the best course of action Detroit could take would be to hand control of Rouge Park over to a private conservancy. That conservancy could then work to ensure that any residential and commericial development of the land improves what already exhists within the park.

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