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Belle Isle Deserves Hope As Grand Prix Roars In

By Carol Cain
CBS 62

If anyone has the inside track with the Sun Gods, please, light a candle and say a prayer so it shines on Belle Isle next weekend.

Like the city it calls home, Belle Isle has weathered some tough times. It could sure use a break.

With an eight-week facelift on the western side of the island finishing up in time for the Grand Prix being held June 1-3, there is one thing all the planning in the world can't change.

"The thing that keeps me up at night (about the race) is the weather. If it's a sunny beautiful day -- like today --  then we are good," Bud Denker, senior vice president of Penske Corp. and Chairman of the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix said during taping of "Michigan Matters."

"Michigan Matters"  features Denker and others talking about the future of Belle Isle. Besides the race's return after a four year hiatus, there are other changes in store too for the island.

Belle Isle is the 985-acre island located midway between Detroit and Windsor. It's been one of our area's jewels. Alas, the island has been the victim of time and not enough resources to keep up with needed repairs from the city which has owned it since 1879.

Which is why Gov. Rick Snyder, as part of the financial consent agreement signed with Detroit, wants to turn it into a state park.

"Belle Isle is a beautiful, historic landmark that brings Detroiters together," Snyder told me. "From the conservatory and museum to auto racing and soccer matches, Belle Isle is many things to many people. By making it a state park we can help alleviate some of the city's costs while maintaining a wonderful place for all to enjoy."

Belle Isle Champions

(Photo: Paul Pytlowany) Sarah Earley, chairwoman of the Belle Isle Conservancy, talking about efforts to improve the historic island. The organization is holding a Detroit Grand Prix Gala this Friday night to raise funds.

Sarah Earley, chairwoman of the Belle Isle Conservancy, has been working with hundreds of champions for years as they raise funds to help keep up with endless repairs and renovations.

To help the cause, the conservancy is holding a Grand Prix Gala Event Friday night to raise money.

Bruce Ross, chief of field operations,  DNR Parks and Recreation Division, is now surveying the needs of the island for the governor's office. He knows the nuances of the island as few others.

Ross grew up on Detroit's west side and as a child spent summers riding his bike to Belle Isle to explore and sometimes look for tadpoles. Those trips inspired his fascination with nature and launched a career.

Among the possible changes for Belle Isle is an entry  fee as is the case at all  state parks.

Earley said she wouldn't mind the fee, "as long as those dollars go back to the island. I don't want them put into a pool which are split up."

Game Day Preparations

(Photo: Paul Pytlowany) Bud Denker, senior vice president of Penske Corp. and Chairman of the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, explains the finishing touches in advance of the race being held June 1-3.

Denker, who has been working on the Grand Prix at the direction of Roger Penske, has teamed up with Jim Campbell, GM's vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports, and countless others others in bringing the race back to Belle Isle.

"Last time (2008), the race brought in over  $50 million in economic benefit  and we are  hoping to top that this time which is great for the city and Belle Isle," Denker added.

All that's needed now: some assistance from Mother Nature with wonderful weather so fans and racers have a weekend to remember!

(Carol Cain is the Emmy winning senior producer and host of "Michigan Matters" which airs 11:30 am Sundays. She writes a column on business and politics in Sunday's Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at or 248-355-7126).

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