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Detroit Real Estate Tycoon Wants To Turn Island Into A Utopia For Rich People

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jan 28, 2013 9:45PM

An artist's rendering for Rodney Lockwood's vision for Detroit's Belle Isle.

A Detroit real estate mogul is hoping to turn a self-published book of fiction about the future of one of Detroit’s landmarks into reality, even though local and state legislators already have a plan in place to transform it.

Belle Isle, the 982 acre island in the middle of the Detroit River, has seen better days since Frederick law Olmstead first created its original plan for transformation in 1883. Detroit’s City Council is expected to approve a plan to lease Belle Isle to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources when it convenes Tuesday. The plan is expected to save Detroit $6.2 million annually and return Belle Isle to a cultural center of prominence in the Motor City.

A real estate developer, Rodney Lockwood, self-published a book, Belle Isle: Detroit’s Game Changer that places the island nearly three decades in the future as an enlightened “city-state” with “its own laws customs and currency, under United States supervision as a Commonwealth.”

Had Lockwood ended there, we’d have no post. But he thought the plot device of rounding up some of Detroit’s favorite sons to raise the $1 billion in capital necessary to fund this hare-brained plan could be conceivable. Apparently, so do some of Detroit's civic leaders. Lockwood claims the Belle Isle he envisions would be a boon for the U.S. despite the fact that residents and businesses would not pay corporate or income tax in his plan. He even breaks down his future for Belle Isle in a website he set up to promote the book.

Artist's rendering.

Reading the FAQ section, however, one comes to the conclusion that what Lockwood has really done is write a plan for an exclusive development, with the Detroit River and a $300,000 buy-in as a moat, with heaping sides of Objectivism and free market economics; Lockwood even named the city-state's currency the Rand, after Ayn Rand.

There’s also little explanation how having a city-state with no taxation will benefit the U.S. It’s a plan that ultimately failed to impress a group of pro-business advocates at a meeting last week.

Gary Brown, a member of Detroit's City Council, told the Lockwood partners that visionary plans like theirs only work if you tackle the problems of the city first, that their plan provided no fix for the city's ills. "It will not work. You've got to fix the problems of the city," Brown said.

And that’s ultimately where Lockwood’s plan, in fiction or book form, fails. What it does is take the people who should be most invested in rebuilding Detroit and sets them apart from the rest, while the city continues to decay. Wasn't this a running theme in Christopher Nolan's "Batman" trilogy?

We love Detroit and it has a ton of problems that all the casinos, urban farms, unincorporation and Chrysler commercials starring Clint Eastwood can solve.

Thankfully more rational minds than Rodney Lockwood are working to a solution grounded in reality.