As the broken city thinks big and radically about its future, a developer is stepping forward with a revolutionary idea: Sell the city’s Belle Isle park for $1 billion to private investors who will transform it into a free-market utopia. The 982-acre island would then be developed into a U.S. commonwealth or city-state of 35,000 people with its own laws, customs and currency.
City officials are likely to reject the plan. But on Jan. 21, supporters including Mackinac Center for Public Policy senior economist David Littmann, retired Chrysler President Al Sperlich and Clark Durant, co-founder of Detroit’s Cornerstone Schools, will present the Commonwealth of Belle Isle plan to a select group of movers and shakers at the tony Detroit Athletic Club.
Among the confirmed reservations of about 50 people who will hear the pitch are Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, and Beth Chappell, president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Club, organizers say. It’s not clear if they know what’s in store.
“We are among the people looking for answers to the city’s problem,” said Rodney Lockwood, a Bingham Farms developer who is the driving force behind the idea.
The former chairman of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and current board member of the free-market-oriented Mackinac Center for Public Policy has written a self-published book about the plan called “Belle Isle: Detroit’s Game Changer.” A website called commonwealthofbelleisle.com debuts on Jan. 22.