Developer Dreams of Turning Detroit Park Into Free Market Utopia

A suburban Detroit developer is promoting an alternative vision for Detroit's Belle Isle: transforming the island park into a commonwealth free market utopia for the elite.
January 14, 2013, 11am PST | Nina Ignaczak
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Like the city it belongs to, Detroit's 982-acre Belle Isle, designed as an urban park in the 1880's by Frederick Law Olmsted, has seen better days. The island, which sits in the middle of the Detroit River, has suffered from disinvestment along with the rest of the City; its partially stocked aquarium is open one day per week after a five-year closure, and other amenities, like the zoo and canoe livery, have been closed for years.  

Still, Belle Isle looms large in the hearts of Detroiters, and a proposal to turn over management of the island to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has met with resistance from some residents and City Council.

Given reluctance to lease the island to the State of Michigan, it seems highly unlikely a new proposal from Bingham Farms developer Rodney Lockwood- to buy the island from the cash-strapped city for $1 billion dollars to have it secede from Michigan and become a semi-independent commonwealth like Puerto Rico- would gain any traction. According to Lockwood's plan, approximately 35,000 citizenships would be available for $300,000 each. A reduced fee or sponsorship for 20% citizens would be reserved for entrepreneurs, immigrants and artists who cannot meet the financial requirement.

Due to a rapidly deteriorating financial situation, Detroit may soon be placed under the control of an Emergency Financial Manager.  Under the previous Emergency Manager law, which voters rejected in November, an EFM had unilateral power to sell city assets.  It is unclear if a new EFM would have such powers under the replacement law, passed by the Michigan Legislature's lame duck session last month.

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Published on Saturday, January 12, 2013 in The Detroit News
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