Crowds relax outside of the Belle Isle Aquarium and Conservatory. On May 31-June 2, Belle Isle will host the Detroit Grand Prix. The Belle Island Conservancy/Provided.

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This weekend, Detroit’s liveliest beach and outdoor area, Belle Isle, will restrict access to the public so paying spectators of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix (presented by Lear) can watch the races. Setup and takedown limit access to the island for weeks during its prime season. In recent years, community activists’ objections to the race takeover have grown louder.

Last year, as a state agency considered and eventually signed off on the Grand Prix’s new permit to continue operating at Belle Isle for the next few summers, we talked to Sandra Novacek, organizer for an opposing group of local residents, the Belle Isle Concern. Novacek believes allowing the race runs counter to the state’s own guiding principles for the island.

“It’s a terribly outdated vision of what a great city should be,” she told Detour. “No other city would dream of subverting such a unique and priceless public space to serve the interests of the automotive business.”

Uncertain math

As concrete barriers and fences closed off portions of Belle Isle, protesters gathered last weekend, voicing their objections that echoed their comments at public meetings throughout the year.

Race organizers say they’d have to leave the city altogether if the Grand Prix was banned from Belle Isle. Proponents cite economic benefits up to $58 million, brisk tourism business and the fees paid by the Grand Prix that make up a large portion of park steward the Belle Isle Conservancy’s budget. Others have called BS on that math, saying the local impact is more like $20 million. (Metro Times)

Public-private partnerships and your parklands

The Grand Prix case is an example of the public-private partnerships that are common in Detroit. They increasingly shape the use of public space (just look at the news about three new parks and who’s paying) and make public amenities beholden to the private entities that sustain them. And while resident use is the most obvious loss, there are other issues with giving over green space to a car race — environmental groups believe hosting the Grand Prix runs counter to the mission of parkland, and worry it could be affecting bird habitats and other wildlife. (CityLab)

Thinking about the larger stakes, some have raised the question: Should Detroit and the state be prioritizing the interests of corporations who put on the event and mostly out-of-town tourists, to the detriment of Detroit residents, who lose out on a critical public service — of the biggest, best locations for free recreation in the city?

Kate (she/her) is passionate about journalism that involves Detroiters from the start and helps readers solve problems and find joy in their daily lives. Her favorite Detroit spot to watch the sunset, play soccer, watch the freighters go by and feel a little haunted is Historic Fort Wayne.

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