Since the Chevrolet Belle Isle Grand Prix returned to Belle Isle in 2007, event organizers have made over $13 million in improvements to the island. Belle Isle Conservancy President Michele Hodges says, “We are excited about the fact that the drainage systems are improved, the James Scott Memorial Fountain is now operational, there are benches, the MacArthur Bridge is lit, and the Belle Isle Casino have been renovated.” These are a few of the enhancements made to Belle Isle to provide a cleaner and more comfortable experience for park users.
Hodges wants to make clear to every Detroiter that “this is your park.”
“As part of the Grand Prix as well, we were able to raise over $1 million dollars Friday, May 29 to support the conservancy and its effort to improve and enhance Belle Isle,” says Hodges.
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the City of Detroit and the Belle Isle Conservancy work in cooperation in maintaining the island. Hodges says the city maintains ownership of the island, while the DNR has operational responsibility for the next 30 years, with two 15-year renewals. She says the DNR is responsible for those day-to-day operations of the island. The Michigan Department of Transportation is responsible for the roads. Hodges says there are also appointed seats on the conservancy’s board of directors from the city and the DNR to ensure good communication and collaboration.
The conservancy is leading the planning process that is underway for the island. Hodges says the conservancy is working with Biederman Redevelopment Ventures – who creates, redevelops, and operates parks, public spaces, and neighborhood streetscapes – for strategic planning island-wide.
“Their signature success is Bryant Park in New York City. We are looking to them to develop governance strategy so they’ll be able to determine precisely what the DNR is doing in relationship to the city and any other parties that are significantly at the table, like the Grand Prix,” says Hodges. “What also will be helping us is a capital projects plan, so that we’ll know which projects should be our priorities, roughly what order we should undertake them and what their costs will be.”
Another planning development the conservancy is leading is with Albert Kahn and Associates, which will be looking at the Conservatory and the Aquarium to develop them as a cultural campus. It will also include the Belle Isle Nature Zoo and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum as part of that.
“We will build on the critical mass that is already there and will continue to create wonderful experiences for park users and their family,” says Hodges.
The conservancy is also responsible for community engagement. Hodges says the enhancements to Belle Isle today are have been building blocks.
“It’s not until we fully integrate ourselves into a community engagement plan that we will really take flight as a park and as a community,” she says.
Hodges says one of the hallmarks of what’s happening at the Aquarium and the Conservatory are field trips with Detroit Public Schools’ fourth graders.
“With dollars raised May 29, and with the generosity of GM, we are going to be able to expand that program in the coming years,” she says.
With the conservancy also managing approximately 4,000 volunteers a year, you can look forward to improvements happening for park visitors with more community events and activities all year round.