Friday (5/02) via the MichiganMessenger.com
by Eartha Jane Melzer
Prominent backers of Harbor Shores project live just minutes from proposed golf course
Supporters of the Harbor Shores luxury housing development say the $500 million project will create jobs and spark the renewal of the city of Benton Harbor, now the poorest city in Michigan.
But for two prominent backers of project, Republican Congressman Fred Upton and Whirlpool CEO Jeff Fettig, the benefits of the project hit closer to home: the proposed development will put a private golf course with spectacular views of Lake Michigan just a short drive from their family residences.
According to county property records, Upton and Fettig, both residents of Benton Harbor's more affluent neighboring municipality, St. Joseph, live on Ridgeway Avenue, a residential street that dead-ends in the south end of Jean Klock Park. The park is a public recreation area owned by the city of Benton Harbor that would lose 22 acres of beachfront terrain to the Harbor Shores development. If the project is approved, dunes in the park would become three holes of a private Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course, open only to those who could afford a daily fee expected to be in the range of $200.
Both men have taken action to promote the project.
Upton, 55, a personable moderate Republican who has represented Michigan's 6th District since 1986, intervened last fall with the National Park Service to hasten official approval. When the Park Service objected to the transfer of park land to developers for the golf course, citing lack of public view of the proposal, Upton sent a handwritten letter to regional director Ernest Quintana, insisting the agency allow the project to move forward.
"Ernie," Upton wrote on Nov. 19, 2007, "… the Michigan Attorney General's Office makes the point 'the proposed use of a part of Jean Klock Park as part of a larger public golf course serves a purpose as a public park' … I'm not a lawyer but doesn't that allow us to move forward without getting additional approvals?"
Quintana disagreed and and ordered a public comment hearing that was held last month.
Fettig, 49, has been CEO of Whirlpool, the world's largest home appliance manufacturer, since 2004. Under his leadership the company has invested in Harbor Shores by donating 40 acres of property (estimated value $20 million) and agreeing to loan the project $12 million and cover $3.6 million in "front-end development costs." A Whirlpool spokesman told the Business Review Western Michigan that the investment will help the company attract and retain talent.
If the project is built, Fettig, known to colleagues as a decent though not outstanding golfer, would be living about six-tenths of a mile from the golf course, a three-minute drive. Upton lives a few houses down the street from Fettig.
Other members of the Upton family would also enjoy close proximity to the private golf course. Aubrey McClendon, the CEO of Chesapeake Energy and a real estate developer, is married to Fred Upton's cousin Katie Upton McClendon. Last May, McClendon played alongside course designer Jack Nicklaus at the Morgan Stanley Pro-Am Invitational. The McClendons own four lots on Ridgeway.
Both Upton and Fettig are wealthy. Upton, whose grandfather was a co-founder of Whirlpool, owns between $1 million and $5 million worth of the company's stock, according to his financial disclosure statement. Fettig earned almost $13 million in 2007, according to Directorship magazine.
One local real estate agent says residents of the street where Fettig and Upton live can expect financial benefits if Harbor Shores is built
"Ridgeway has been the gold coast of the Midwest for a long time," said Loren Gerber of Core Real Estate in nearby Stevensville. "I expect Harbor Shores to cause property values to rise along Ridgeway and everywhere around the course."
The public comment hearing, held April 17 in Benton Harbor, attracted a standing-room-only crowd that was evenly divided between supporters and opponents of the project. The public comment period for the Harbor Shores project is open until May 17.
The state is backing the project with a promise of $120 million in tax breaks. Liz Boyd, a spokeswoman for Gov. Jennifer Granholm, told Michigan Messenger, "Our goal is to work with all of the parties to make sure that this project can go forward."
Neither Upton nor Fettig responded to Michigan Messenger requests for comment on how they would benefit from the Harbor Shores development. END