DETROIT (WWJ) - Should Belle Isle be sold for $1 billion to a developer so he can turn it into a tax-free "commonwealth" — with its own laws?
The outlandish idea, initially proposed early this year, is gaining some interest now that Detroit has filed for bankruptcy.
That's according to Rod Lockwood, who wants to turn the island into a private city-state with a focus on free market capitalism and limited government.
Interview: Belle Isle Commonwealth
He says it would be a vibrant community, served by a monorail, and rife with exclusive homes, condos, restaurants and shopping centers — with funds set aside to keep the park itself and its historic structures intact.
Detroit's recent Chapter 9 filing has pushed the plan just a little closer to becoming a reality, according to Lockwood. He said selling Belle Isle makes sense.
"Now with the federal bankruptcy judge working with the emergency manager, we have a single point of decision. It creates an opportunity for somebody to take action on an asset," Lockwood told WWJ's Charlie Langton. "It [Belle Isle] is a potential terrific asset, depending upon how it's handled."
Lockwood believes about $60 billion would be pumped into the Detroit area economy and about 100,000 new jobs would be created. "The magnet for capital that would come to Detroit would be huge. It would be fantastic," he said.
What would it take to make this happen? Lockwood himself admits he'd need a lot of support to pull it off.
"It will take the people of Detroit — the leadership and the people themselves — to learn about the idea; to understand what it means and its implications and to get behind it; and to march on Lansing and march on Washington," Lockwood said.
He'll also need plenty of high-dollar investors.
Many have called the proposal bizarre. Jeff Wattrick, of Deadline Detroit, called it "radical" and "unhinged."
"If Belle Isle could be extracted from Michigan to form a tax-free Puerto Rico-like 'commonwealth,' then why couldn't other parts of the country secede from their respective states?" Wattrick said. "The possibility of balkanizing these United States for the sake of ideological purity is to effectively dissolve what our Founding Fathers called 'a more perfect Union'."
There's been much ado about what to do about Belle Isle, after a state plan to lease the 985-acre park from Detroit died in its infancy. Gov. Rick Snyder withdrew an offer to lease Belle Isle after the Detroit City Council failed to vote on it.
Owned by the city since 1879. the island had suffered in recent years as a cash-strapped Detroit can't afford needed repairs.
[Learn more about Lockwood's idea HERE].
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