Belle Isle Will Become A State Park; It's Just A Matter Of Time

Columnist_tn_billmac

A lot of people are upset because the Detroit City Council voted to table a seemingly win-win idea to make Belle Isle a state park. Gov. Rick Snyder responded by pulling back the offer, saying time had run out.

And there certainly is a lot to be bummed about.

The endless discussion was disheartening, especially the racialized testimony from a few residents and the paranoid rant from Councilwoman JoAnn Watson that the state’s offer was a plot to create “a playground for the rich.”

The position of Councilman Ken Cockrel, almost always a voice of reason, was also discouraging. He voted to delay the final vote, saying Belle Isle was a distraction for the council, given the city’s financial collapse. So vote on it, councilman!

But take heart, fans of Belle Isle State Park.

The state will be running Belle Isle one day. It’s inevitable.

It might happen sooner or it might happen later. It’s all politics, don’t forget, so the refusal to have a vote on the question could change in the coming days and Gov. Rick Snyder could change his mind and put Belle Isle back on the table. Politics has a way of making the concept of time more elastic than it is in real life. 

The state runs wonderful parks from the shores of Lake Erie to the shores of Gitchee Gumee. It already runs a marvelous little park, named after former Gov. William Milliken, on the shore of the Detroit River. The state’s ability to operate the beloved island in the middle of the river is a classic no-brainer.

Just like turning over the operation of the art museum to the Founders’ Society was a classic no-brainer. That discussion dragged on endlessly, emotions ran high, but the deal got done. Result: The DIA is flourishing.

Just like turning over the operation of the Cobo Convention Center to a regional authority was a classic no-brainer. That discussion dragged on, emotions ran high, but the deal got done. Result: Cobo is flourishing.

Just like turning over the operation of the zoo to a non-profit organization was a no-brainer. That discussion dragged on, emotions ran high, but the deal got done. Result: The zoo is flourishing.

Ditto Eastern Market, the history museum and Detroit’s golf courses.

Anything that moves from the control of the city to the control of another entity has proven to be a good idea because the city doesn’t have enough money to keep gas in the tanks of its police cars much less food in the bellies of its polar bears.

One thing is different this time: The city is collapsing in ways it wasn’t collapsing when those other transactions took place. Snyder is trying to figure out what to do about the city in general. Saying no to his offer to run Belle Isle seemed at times like telling the governor to keep his hands off Detroit itself.

But there is an inevitably about Belle Isle State Park. The city can’t afford Belle Isle, and it’s falling apart. Either Detroit’s politicians will figure it out, or a state-appointed emergency financial manager or federal bankruptcy judge will do it.

JoAnn Watson and Kwame Kenyatta, state-park opponents whose maneuver Tuesday led to the tabling of the issue, are like the owners of a buggy-whip store in Detroit in 1910, or typewriter salespersons in 1995. History is passing them by, and they can’t accept it.

More than many other politicians in Detroit, Watson and Kenyatta infuse their positions at the council table with black pride and an ideology of self-determination. I respect that.

They turn out supporters who are loud and assertive and sincere in their beliefs. I respect that, too.

But that mojo is butting against the reality of dollars and sense. Detroiters overall understand that. A highly scientific poll of city residents last year found overwhelming support to let the state run Belle Isle. If the issue ever gets to the city council table, there could very well be five votes to pass it.

Watson finished in last place in the 2009 election. Kenyatta, who has said he won’t run this year, finished second from last.

Some day, long after Belle Isle is a state park, we’ll look back at the time Watson and Kenyatta sat at the council table and ranted against the idea and it all will seem so peculiar.

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