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Mich. board approves deal to lease Belle Isle to state
The transition of Detroit's historic Belle Isle to a state park began Tuesday after the Michigan Emergency Loan Board approved a 30-year lease with the city.

The state has promised to make up to $20 million in improvements to the park over the next three years, while saving the city — which is seeking bankruptcy protection — $4 million to $6 million a year in operating costs. An entrance fee for motorists begins next year.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials will begin a 90-day transition period immediately while assessing the park's capital needs, spokesman Ed Golder said after the meeting.

"Our immediate priorities are going to be opening up restrooms and picking up trash," Golder said. "We're also going to be trying to clear trails pretty quickly for winter use."

Details on capital improvements won't be known until an assessment is completed, he said.

Starting in early February, an $11 entry fee for motorists to Belle Isle — which is now free, and will remain so for pedestrians and cyclists — will be phased in. It's the same $11 annual passport fee as all of the other roughly 100 state parks, Golder said. Because many people purchase the passports when they renew their license tabs, the phase-in will work as so: Someone who isn't due to renew their sticker until June, for example, won't have to pay the annual fee until then, he said.

The three-member state board rejected an alternative Detroit City Council proposal for a 10-year lease with stricter language about promised state improvements.

The unanimous vote at a public meeting in Lansing was not unexpected, as the three board members are all appointees of Gov. Rick Snyder, and Snyder backed the appointment of Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr, who proposed the lease. Snyder signed the 30-year deal Oct. 1.

Detroit City Councilman James Tate, who addressed the loan board in Lansing on Tuesday, said he was disappointed with the decision because "there is no funding that is guaranteed in this lease."

But he said it's now up to the city to make the best of the deal.

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