Jason S. Myers
|Posted on Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - 3:25 pm:
I just sent off this letter to a whole host of people and groups. I think the HCMA should basically take over the aquarium. It is unfair to make the city the villian here. Unless you live in the city, it isn't prudent for you to be saying that city taxes should be going to support a regional institution.
Here is the letter:
An Open letter to the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority Commissioners:
James Young - Livingston Co, William E. Kreger - Wayne Co., James Clarkson - Oakland Co., Robert W. Marans - Washtenaw Co., John C. Hertel - Macomb Co., Harry E. Lester - Governor Appointee, Peter S. Walters - Governor Appointee,
The Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority Officers:
Gary C. Bartsch - Director, James J. Bresciami - Deputy Director, Gregory J. Almas - Secretary, David L. Wahl - Controller,
Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority Staff:
Denise Mogos - Public Relations, Susan Nyquist - Chief Park Planner, David Moilanen - Chief of Interpretive Services and Public Relations,
Detroit City Council:
Maryann Mahaffey - Council President, Kenneth V. Cockrel, Jr. - Council President Pro Tem, Sheila M. Cockrel, Alberta Tinsley-Talabi, Barbara-Rose Collins, Alonzo W. Bates, JoAnn Watson,
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick,
Sharon McPhail - Detroit City Council Member and Mayoral Candidate,
Freman Hendrix, Detroit Mayoral Candidate,
The Detroit Zoological Institute,
The Metro Times Detroit, Michigan Chronicle, Detroit News and Detroit Free Press.
Dear Detroit politicians, policy makers, and the Detroit Zoological Institute,
As you are aware, the Belle Island Aquarium is in danger of being closed in order to make necessary budget cuts in the City of Detroit. You are also aware that property owners and residents of the region pay a tax to support the Huron Clinton Metropolitan Authority's MetroParks.
These parks were originally conceived as a greenbelt to surround Detroit. Over the decades, the plans have been scaled back, but we are now blessed in the region with thirteen great parks that provide education and recreation to the residents of out state. They are truly part of what makes Michigan great.
But unfortunately, a large number of families in the region do not have adequate access to these great parks. According to the 2000 US Census, 21.9% of households in the city of Detroit do not have access to one vehicle. That is over 75,000 families that pay taxes to support an asset they cannot hope to use.
Since the MetroParks require admission to support their operation, there may never be a full-fledged MetroPark within the city limits. Most people would like large city parks like Belle Island to remain free to enter. However, the Belle Island Aquarium is a facility that currently requires admission.
I propose that the Huron Clinton Metropolitan Authority join forces with the City of Detroit and the Detroit Zoological Institute to improve the Belle Island Aquarium and to bring the first MetroPark within the city limits.
The aquarium can be operated just as any other MetroPark is, except that it will be located within a Detroit city park that doesn't require admission. The MetroParks millage will help support the aquarium operations, and admission fees will cover the rest.
Looking into the future, it may be a good idea for the HCMA to have a greater role on Belle Island. Maybe bicycle or canoe rentals are something that HCMA can do on the island while keeping general park admission free for everybody and keeping the general park maintenance within the City of Detroit Recreation Department budget.
But right now, city residents that pay to support the MetroParks but cannot use them deserve to get something for their money. The region also needs to invest in its cultural treasures and maintain them regardless of which political division they fall within. This can be done by dedicating HCMA funding to the Belle Island Aquarium.
Jason S. Myers
I am a resident of Ann Arbor, who hopes to move to Detroit this summer after I get my masters degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Michigan. I am a Kalamazoo native and a Michigan Tech graduate. I hope the 4 newspapers print this letter even if it is a bit longer than normal letters to the editor. (Of course you should truncate the header.) Contact me at 734.xxx.xxx to verify this letter if necessary. Thank you.
Jason S. Myers
|Posted on Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - 3:35 pm:
If anybody knows how to get this letter into the hands of the Zoo people (other than their comment page) let me know or forward it to them.
Michael Bartlett (Mike)
|Posted on Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - 11:02 pm:
This is really excellent. As I am reading this late at night, it is not the best time for me to make phone calls, but I will try to get the information you need and send it to your email ASAP.
Jason S. Myers
|Posted on Wednesday, March 02, 2005 - 5:02 pm:
I got 2 responses from HCMA. One is below (David Moilanen), the other was from Robert Marans, who is faculty in my department. That response was an invitation to talk to me in person, which I will likely take up in the future.
Below is Mr. Moilanen's response, unedited and currently without comment.
Thanks for your thoughts on Belle Isle and how the HCMA might work more on the island. I realize you probably will not agree with all of the following, but allow me to explain the situation from the HCMA's perspective. You seem to know quite a lot about the system, but let me give you a brief overview:
The Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority is a five-county special park district established by state law in 1939 and approved by a vote of the residents of the district, Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw and Livingston counties, during the 1940 general election. The purpose of the special park district was to develop and operate large regional parks within the five counties. The original vision, as it was approved by all the region's residents including those in Detroit, was to create a system of parks ringing the Detroit Metropolitan area along the Huron and Clinton rivers. They would be large land holdings with diverse recreational activities and facilities that would attract visitors from throughout the region.
These regional parks were not intended to provide for all the outdoor recreational needs of the district. They were intended to complement the parks and recreation centers of municipalities, cities, townships, counties and the state, providing just a piece of the recreational puzzle for the residents of Southeast Michigan. Local governmental agencies could operate smaller, more intensively developed parks, but by pooling funds from the residents of the five counties, the HCMA could purchase larger tracts of land and operate facilities that the individual governmental units could not do on their own. The HCMA, with these agencies, could together better meet the outdoor recreational needs of the residents.
The HCMA, with dedicated funding provided by up to a quarter mill tax levy on the property within the five counties (currently the Authority levies .2154 mils due to Headlee Amendment roll backs), began developing Metroparks in the region. Parks were planned and land was purchased along the two rivers where inexpensive property with appealing natural features could be found. At the time these parks were first established, these were not "rich" areas. They were built in rural areas on land that was of marginal value for farming or other purposes. This land was chosen also because there were no large parcels left in Detroit. The first to open was Kensington Metropark, in 1948. Since then, HCMA has grown to include 13 Metroparks, encompassing more than 24,000 acres and serving between nine million and 10 million people each year. Through the years, with a stable source of funding, coupled with sound fiscal management and the economies that come from operating fewer larger parks rather than many smaller parks, the HCMA has developed a national reputation for managing a system of clean, safe, well-maintained parks that greatly enhance the quality of life for the residents of the region.
Through the HCMA's history, there has been concern expressed that no regional park facilities were located within or close to the main population center, Detroit, and therefore the regional parks were inaccessible to some people who did not have automobile transportation. HCMA has tried to be responsive to this concern. Four large Metroparks -- Lower Huron, Willow, Oakwoods and Lake Erie -- are located within Wayne County and are relatively close to the city. For years, the HCMA's interpretive department has done outreach nature programming at schools and at other venues within the City of Detroit.
In the late '60s the Metroparks again looked for sizable tracts of land within the city for developing a regional park, but none could be found. HCMA then developed a plan for renovating and operating Belle Isle. This concept was taken before the voters of Detroit and was approved in the 1970 general election. In order to pay for the $40 million redevelopment plan, however, the HCMA needed more funding. So in the 1972 election, a request to increase the millage rate to .5 mils was put before the voters of the five counties. The proposition was defeated (even in Detroit), so the HCMA then proposed to reduce the scope of the redevelopment plan, begin charging an entry fee to the Metroparks, and delay the plans for purchasing property in other parts of the region for the development of other Metroparks, in order to pay for the renovation and operation of the island park. By 1973, however, the administration within the City of Detroit had changed and the idea of having a regional agency control and operate one of Detroit's jewels was not acceptable. The plan for HCMA operating Belle Isle died.
Since that time, the HCMA has been involved in numerous discussions and plans to operate or help operate Fort Wayne and the State fairgrounds. Developing and operating either of these facilities by itself is well beyond the financial capability of the Metroparks(over $10 million just to keep Fort Wayne from further deterioration, and over $50 million to develop a Metropark on the State Fairgrounds, plus annual operation costs of several million annually), but partnering with the City, DNR and Wayne County parks was considered a possibility. These potential operating partnerships have not developed however, for various reasons (Several years ago, a memorandum of understanding for a joint venture at Fort Wayne between the HCMA, Wayne County Parks and the City of Detroit was approved by the HCMA Board and Wayne County Board, but was never approved by Detroit City council). The HCMA has also been asked to simply give a portion of its revenues back to the City of Detroit so that these funds could be added to the City's Parks and Recreation budget. This would be political and financial suicide for the HCMA. If such funding was made available to Detroit, what would keep other cities such as Warren, Pontiac and Ann Arbor, or any other local governmental unit in the region where no Metropark is located, from asking for funds?
HCMA is helping on Belle Isle. In 2004, the HCMA began working on Belle Isle in partnership with the Detroit Zoo to develop and conduct nature programming at the new Belle Isle Nature Zoo. The Metroparks agreed to commit up to three full-time naturalists and support funding to help conduct the programming at this facility.
While the Authority's funding is stable, like other agencies, its funding is tight and fully committed to existing parks and operations. The situation has changed since the early '70s when the Authority looked at operating Belle Isle. The HCMA is now a system of mature parks that are in need of major renovations themselves. With its existing budget and revenues, the HCMA could not afford to take on by itself the financial burden of operating Belle Isle much less undertake a $200 million renovation of the island's facilities. To take on more financial responsibility for operating Belle Isle, or even a portion of Belle Isle, would require the agency to reduce operations and even close some of its existing parks in other parts of the region.
The Metroparks will continue to work with the Detroit Zoo to develop and program the Belle Isle Nature Zoo, but it cannot afford to do more at the island park.
If you have further concerns or questions, please feel free to contact me.
HCMA Chief of Interpretive Services and Public Relations
|Posted on Wednesday, March 02, 2005 - 6:03 pm:
correct me if I am wrong....according to Mr. Moilanen's letter: I pay for the maintenence of parks that are too far from where I live and I do not use. Meanwhile the park that I DO USE is seeing a fraction or zero of the dollars I am taxed every year?