Thursday, May 30, 2024

Island Issues

USA: Plans for Belle Isle “Free Economic Zone” Gather Support

In the economically depressed state of Michigan, proposals to turn a large island park into a tax-free haven have been surprisingly popular, if controversial.

(Creative Commons aerial of Belle Isle)

(Creative Commons aerial of Belle Isle)

The debate over what should be done with Belle Isle – a vast city park in Michigan’s Detroit River – has been waging for years, and generated some highly creative ideas. The latest to garner media attention is courtesy of the state’s “free market” crusaders, who have proposed turning the island into a tax haven.

The 982-acre island sits just south of the USA/Canada border, and was once a thriving recreational spot that drew in visitors with its long swimming beach, pleasant nature trails, aquarium, and nature conservatory.

The city of Detroit, however, has not been able to financially maintain the island, and its amenities and park services have been steadily deteriorating.

Public criticism over Detroit’s inability to come to a decision about what to do with the island has recently been making headlines. The city would save more than US $6 million per year if Belle Isle was leased to the state government – who also have the funding to improve its decaying infrastructure.

(Livingstone Lighthouse on Belle Isle)

(Livingstone Lighthouse on Belle Isle)

Another alternative, according to notable members of Michigan’s Republican Party, would be to sell the island to a consortium of wealthy investors, with a suggested price of $1 billion, and allow it to secede from the country. A multitude of websites have sprung up in support of the idea, and some Detroit residents have suggested it could be just what the depressed city needs.

According to the plans, the island would be transformed into a “free economic zone” with little or no income tax and laissez-faire business and trade policies. Large enough for a population of 35,000 libertarian-minded citizens, proponents have envisioned a modern city of bank towers and apartment blocks for the now-verdant park.

The idea of turning an island into a sovereign nation is nothing new – many have tried and failed, and most such plans remain pie-in-the-sky fantasies that no country on earth would permit to happen. Such proposals for Belle Isle, however, have gained some element of credibility, mainly due to prominent backers like major developers, right-wing think tanks and former corporate CEOs.

(Satellite Image of the island)

(Satellite image of the island)

While the idea of a creating a tax-friendly zone within the United States may sound outlandish, supporters of the project point out that there are, in fact, many autonomous business regions throughout the world, including China, India, and Brazil. The plans for the island have also led to comparisons to the UK Channel Island tax havens like Jersey.

The City of Detroit, however, does not appear be entertaining the idea, despite its struggling finances and lack of business development. It seems there is no price big enough to make up for losing one of the city’s few natural treasures – and free market secessionists will have to look elsewhere.

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