Sunday July 01 2007. A shore thing$500 million investment designed to jump-start economy in struggling Michigan town
Megan Brody Staff Writer
"Developers of the 530-acre Benton Harbor, Michigan resort-style community forwent the traditional shovels in the ground photo-op and instead hosted a kickoff party with style." (Resort style community means a seasonal community - that's what defines a resort community). The 300-plus-guest party transformed an auditorium at Lake Michigan College into a spectacle ( At what cost? Who was paying? Harbor Shore? Taxpayers?). Gold and silver balloons adorned tables; speakers, including Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, addressed the crowd in front of a golden Mylar balloon backdrop; and guests nibbled on hors d'oeuvres and sweets while sipping cocktails.
City of hope
The celebration was indeed warranted. The announced $500 million project took three years to plan and required the cooperation of countless public and private entities. After riots in 2003 garnered international attention, it was obvious to local leaders that the Lake Michigan community was in dire need of change. The town has remained popular as a traditional summer destination, but many year-round residents never reaped the benefit of those seasonal dollars (remember resort communities are the equivalent of a seasonal community, and a "resort community" means seasonal occupations).
“We’re using economic development to change people’s lives,” (that means changing their biology) says David R. Whitwam, trustee and chairman of Harbor Shores Redevelopment Inc., the project’s nonprofit developer (Except for members of the Alliance - banks and such. Where is the money from the Harbor Shore Real Estate going? Is it nonprofit? How about the Banks? Will they profit?). The hope is it will bring temporary construction jobs, permanent jobs and an increased tax base to the community (hope is the key word). It is expected to generate over $630 million in new consumer spending and $30 million annually in new tax revenue. ($630 million as a project total or annually?) The project is predicted to boost the local tax base by 75 percent for Benton Harbor, 30 percent for neighbor St. Joseph and 3 percent for Benton Charter Township. (How will these newly generated public funds be distributed? Who is responsible for allocating the money? Harbor Shores? The State? The City? Will they be used to pay for more prisons? More war? Do current residents of Benton Harbor have control over this influx of funds?)
The community is counting on this development to give a boost to the city where 42.6 percent of individuals fell below the poverty line in 2006, according to the US Census Bureau. Money generated from the development will go towards programs like job training (Of what type? Training for Walmart?), literary classes (Daycare development classes like "Junior Achievement?") and small business development (ie. Franchises- see Cornerstone news). The local economic development corporation (ie. Cornerstone) expects to have a better shot at luring factories and other lucrative manufacturing opportunities to the community. (False, manufactures are looking to decrease their operating costs, while the Harbor Shores plan, by definition, will increase a manufacture's operating costs (taxes, cost of living, etc.). Then again, the proposed manufacturing sites maybe part of the planned tax free Renaissance Zones- see Cornerstone website. Why don't current BH resident have tax free Zones?). The EDC is hoping the completion of Harbor Shores will allow the town to shed its depressed image. (EDC = Cornerstone).
Upon completion in 2013, Harbor Shores will have redefined 530 acres along and adjacent to the Lake Michigan shoreline (including Jean Klock Park). At the heart of the project is an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course (Since you can't play golf in the winter in Michigan, the "heart" of this plan stops functioning in the winter. Nicklaus also happens to be a frat brother of a Whirlpool executive and the Evergreen Inc. Founder), which includes a 60,000 square foot lodge (which presupposes a primary customer, or user base of people who aren't here in the winter); by 860 residential units (Only 10% of which are slotted for the economically oppressed. Even those people that will benefit must obey by hopelessly strict rules of conduct to stay in the house. Every resident who doesn't have a prior judicial history, never misses a payment, keeps their lawn green, has no violations or neighbor complaints, can stay as long so long as everyone staying within the house can pass a drug test on command. Once their is no one who fulfills these criteria what happens to the land? Does Harbor Shores Development take control?); 27,000 square feet of retail and commercial space (shops which will mainly be seasonal thanks to the "heart" not working in the winter) ; a 350 room hotel/conference center; and a 60,000 square foot indoor water park-hotel (Paid for by taxpayers and currently listed by La Salle- a close Whirpool corporate partner).
Harbor Shores began as the pet project of Whirlpool Corp., the largest home appliance maker in the world, which also calls Benton Harbor home to its global headquarters, employing about 3,000 workers. The company controls several key parcels in the heart (heart = golf course, which includes, in part, Jean Klock Park) of the development and had always vowed to use the land in a way that would benefit the entire community (Residents of Benton Harbor, MAKE THEM KEEP THIS PROMISE). Whirlpool, a company that operates a bus for its employees who would rather make the two-hour jaunt to Chicago each day, has serious concerns about being able to attract the talent required for an operation its size (Their saying local residents aren't competent enough. This means that the jobs created will not be for local residents, which is why they need to bus workers in from other states).
“We’ve been thinking about this to benefit the community (Who's community? What current residents of Benton Harbor will benefit?). That decision was already made,” says Whitwam, who also served as Whirlpool’s CEO from 1987 to 2004, when asked why he and the other developers chose to pass on a lucrative money making opportunity.
Whirlpool Foundation, the charitable arm of the company; the Alliance for World-Class Communities, a community improvement group catering to Southwest Michigan; and Cornerstone Alliance, an economic development organization for Southwest Michigan make up Harbor Shores Redevelopment Inc., the master developer. Evergreen Development Co. LLC (the owner is in a frat with a Whirlpool executive and the golf course guy) is responsible for the master plan of Harbor Shores (the Frat Club they've always wanted). Chicago’s Related Midwest Co. LLC will serve as the residential portion and will profit from the venture (I am forgetting the connection between Chicago Related Midwest Co. LLC, Evergreen Developer LLC and Whirlpool right now, but I'll post the relation soon).
“This is not your typical ‘We’ll build a stadium with tax dollars,’ ” says Mark Mitchell, trustee and vice president of Alliance for World-Class Communities (Right, because Harbor Shores is an unprecedented example of local and state exploitation).
Harbor Shores Redevelopment Inc. required the collaboration of even more factions—local, state and federal government bodies are all scheduled or have already financially contributed. The project required the acquisition of 175 different land parcels with 90 different owners. It took just three years of negotiations to garner control of all the land (control is the key word here), and about one-third of the site is contaminated. Much of the property was at one time home to either manufacturing or served as dumping grounds. So far, $26 million has been spent on clean-up efforts. The sheer scope of Harbor Shores allows the developers to tackle projects, such as some of the environmental remediation that would have been economically unfeasible on their own (That means Benton Harbor residents are not themselves worth the cost associated with cleaning up toxic sites. Only after the planned arrival of new residents is the poisonous land worthy of detoxification).
“Without Harbor Shores, that area would remain contaminated,” says Whitwam.
The massive redevelopment will start with the golf course in July, which will sit on land with weak soil concentration, making constructing anything of significance virtually impossible or extremely expensive. (They just said that the Lake Front Park, given to the children of Benton Harbor lake and used for baptisms is, "virtually insignificant.") The course will serve as a draw for the development and will open in 2009.
Other current construction includes the public infrastructure and removing asbestos from the just under 30 homes Harbor Shores Redevelopment Inc. had to purchase to move forward with the project. (Thanks for removing the asbestos after you took control of Benton Harbor's homes). Two Frank Lloyd Wright designed homes within the redevelopment parcel will be saved.
The most visible public amenity will be the $1 million redevelopment and 47-acre expansion of Jean Klock Park (The expansion property proposed is currently contaminated. Thus, they are taking a non-contaiminated lake front park and giving the residents contaimed parcels. I'll post the public relevant documents as soon as I make it to a scanner) an underutilized Lake Michigan beachfront gem. The property is fairly isolated and when it developed a reputation as a site for dogfights and drug deals, most of Benton Harbor’s residents stayed away. The redevelopment of the park has remained controversial, however, because its removes the property from public control.
“There’s more times when you see people park their boats and swim to the beach than residents using the beach,” says Wendy Dant Chesser, trustee and vice president of the Cornerstone Alliance. (She just indicated that the since residents of BH don't use the park, the interest of non residents -those who swim to the beach from the boats - supersedes the interest of Benton Harbor residents because they use the park more often).
The beach will continue to be open to the public (but, look at their development maps), and Harbor Shores residents are expected to also utilize the property. And as the ground breaking commences, the impact is set to begin.
Return on investment
“The market will drive development. Speculators are knocking on doors everyday,” says Dant Chesser of home owners with property surrounding the slated development. (Maybe Dan Chesser stands to profit and has a relation to the Wendy Chesser that made the remark about the park?). This project fits in with Michigan’s attempt to diversify its economy away from automotives by capitalizing on its natural resources and tourism, said Gov. Granholm at the kickoff party. Graholm dripped sugar onto her description of Michigan’s woes, labeling the state’s economy simply as “challenging,” despite its state of recession.
“Part of our strategy is to lure people here to take advantage of our geography and diversity.”
Harbor Shores has set out to achieve an ambitious ripple effect. Tony McGhee, of the Cornerstone Alliance, is certainly optimistic when he describes Harbor Shores as “a boomtown waiting to happen.” (That means increased property taxes. I ask again, who will determine the distribution of these funds?)
Like this article, everything release from the Harbor Shores group contains information where they tell you they are lying.
The Benton Harbor Election is fast approaching. At the very least, demand from the people you vote for that they establish legal property rights for all current BH residents and a participatory city budget for the influx funds. But, I wouldn't accept this proposal in its current form. After all, we want Whirlpool to live up to its promise that the development will benefit the whole community. Well, benefiting the entire community means that every Benton Harbor resident will share in the fruits of this "altruistic adventure." Will they under the current plan?
I advise carefully examining just what the developers say. Ask if these plans are consistent with the current reality. East Lake, Atlanta, for example, is their model. What happened in East Lake with property values? Who was left out of the benefits? Isn't the Atlanta economy quite different from the Southwest Michigan economy. Why does the East Lake project have 50% mixed income housing and Harbor Shores only 10%? Just ideas