Nature. People. Places.

Who We Are

Creating a park conservancy that would bring more private support to Belle Isle has been discussed for many years. Nationally, park conservancies, working with city government, make it possible to renovate buildings, re-landscape large park areas and add programming elements that serve people of all ages, making parks more welcoming for everyone.

Belle Isle has long history of private support organizations, starting when the Friends of Belle Isle was founded in 1972. Joining the effort in 1988, the Belle Isle Botanical Society began raising money for projects to improve the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory. In 2004, the Belle Isle Women’s Committee was created and its first project was to upgrade Sunset Point.

One year later in 2005, the Friends of the Belle Isle Aquarium was formed with the goal of reopening the 100-year-old aquarium. In 2009, the four organizations discussed joining forces to form a single organization that could continue all of their work and be a more effective advocate for island park improvement projects. Together, they became the Belle Isle Conservancy.

Below is a timeline detailing the creation of the Belle Isle Conservancy.

2009 Stakeholder meetings were held with Belle Isle stakeholders and supporters to learn what they want for the island park and to explore the possibility of forming a park conservancy. This included meetings with City of Detroit officials including Mayor Dave Bing and members of the Detroit City Council and heads of the Recreation Department and General Services Department; community stakeholders and supporters including Josh Elling from the Jefferson East Business Association, Maggie Desantis from the Warren Connor Development Coalition, and LISC Detroit Neighborhoods Now; and, other neighborhood, faith-based and business organizations.

Summer 2010 User Survey collected input from 2,237 people, with funding support from The Kresge Foundation. The city’s Recreation Department and the Friends of Belle Isle supervised young summer workers who interviewed 675 people on Belle Isle from July through August. A Remote Survey gathered input from 1,562 more people, who filled forms in Recreation Centers or submitted their ideas online. The nationally-respected Project for Public Spaces helped to design the survey and analyze the results. This input provided valuable insight into how people currently use Belle Isle and what they want to see improved.

Fall 2010 Merger plans began, facilitated by the Michigan Nonprofit Association, and supported by grants from The Kresge Foundation and the McGregor Fund. Four representatives from each of the four Belle Isle support organizations met almost weekly from October through December to discuss the structure and future programs of a park conservancy.

The Boards of all four organizations voted to move forward in January 2011, approving the merger plans and agreeing to the next steps in this careful process.

Briefing Sessions for members of the four founding organizations were held in April 2011 in Belle Isle’s Flynn Pavilion. These members, who have contributed money and volunteered their time for decades, learned about the plan for the new park conservancy and had the opportunity to ask questions. Members were also kept informed with newsletters.

Due diligence and board nominations were held February to August 2011. Twelve representatives of the four organizations met to form a new organizational board that is a mix of long-time supporters from the founding organizations and new people recruited to represent the community stakeholders and leverage support. The new board includes five seats to ensure that the City of Detroit is well represented and a part of all discussions: a seat appointed by the Mayor, one appointed by the City Council, the heads of the Recreation Department and General Services Department, and the Manager of Belle Isle in the Recreation Department.

Final approval of the merger took place between September and October 2011. The legal work to finalize and approve the merger is now in process with the State of Michigan.

A Public Community Meeting is planned for November 15, 2011 at the Detroit Wayne County Port Authority Public Dock and Terminal. The meeting will serve to announce the Belle Isle Conservancy, describe its goals and plans, and to invite the public to become supporters of Belle Isle by becoming members or volunteers. The community meeting is supported by the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.