by Dan Rafter
These have been challenging times for Benton Harbor. The city in Southwest Michigan has for the last three years been under state control as a way to shore up its massive financial woes. Since the time that an emergency manager has taken control of the city from its elected officials, Benton Harbor has cut its deficit from $3.4 million in 2010 to $1.2 million now.
Jeff Noel hopes that a $26 million 92-unit luxury hotel scheduled to open in the spring of next year will provide yet another financial boost to the community.
Developer Harbor Shores in late November officially launched the Harbor Village mixed-use development, a development in Benton Harbor on the shores of Lake Michigan that will include the hotel. The second phase of the development — the hotel and residential homes — will join a new golf course that is already open, an indoor health-and-recreation facility that officially opened in early December and a 54-slip marina.
“The fact that we were able to get this development going during the height of the recession is a testament to how much people want this,” said Noel, president of Harbor Shores and public affairs vice president for Whirlpool Corp., a corporation involved in . “Even in big cities like Chicago projects came to a screeching halt. Here, with people working together for the right reasons, we were able to get this project going.”
This development, though, hasn’t come without controversy. Three of the golf course’s holes use land in the Jean Klock Park. Benton Harbor in 1977 accepted money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act to develop this park. This came with a condition: That the park remain open to the public. Another condition? If the park is closed, it should be replaced with land of equal fair market value and an equivalent recreational value.
The three holes took up 22 acres of land in the park. In exchange, Benton Harbor received seven parcels of real estate. Critics say that the deal was an unfair one for the public. Supports say the golf course and mixed-use development are needed to provide for a better economic future for the still cash-strapped community.
Noel says that Harbor Shores improved the park. He points to $30 million of debris that the developer removed from the park. He also said that Harbor Shores spent a little more than $4 million to upgrade the park.
“Now the city of Benton Harbor is receiving almost $140,000 a year from non-Benton Harbor residents who are willing to pay to get into the park,” Noel said.
Set inside the Harbor Shores development, the $114 million Harbor Village phase is located on the northern bank of the St. Joseph River. The project will feature the luxury hotel, marina and four types of residential housing.
Harbor Shores says that it should bring an estimated 230 jobs to the community.
The Inn at Harbor Shores is the cornerstone of Harbor Village. It will be the first high-rise hotel built on Lake Michigan’s southwest shore in more than a decade. It will include 92 guest rooms, 14 suites and more than 10,000 square feet of event space. It will also feature an on-site restaurant.
The Marina at Harbor Shores, which is already open, offers 54 floating dock slips and 350 feet of broadside dockage for yachts of 150 feet or more. The four new residential options will add to the cottages and homes already dotting Harbor Shores.