$2 million waterfront plaza planned for Benton Harbor

A $2 million waterfront community space is coming to Benton Harbor, thanks to help from a grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation's Revitalization and Placemaking Program (RAP).

“Waterfront development is a top priority for the community and our organization," says Andrew Haan, vice president of business development at Cornerstone Alliance. "MEDC’s RAP program provided the perfect opportunity to create a world-class space for the community and set the standard for future public space development.”

Cornerstone Alliance is a non-profit economic development organization focused on increasing employment opportunities, private sector capital investments and the local tax base in Southwestern Michigan.

“Our shared waterfront is the next frontier for investment and development," says Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad. "The opportunity to help catalyze the creation of a space for neighbors to gather and connect with the water, and with each other fits our vision for how to grow an equitable community. We are grateful for the partnerships that continue to help us advance that goal."

What’s happening: Cornerstone Alliance, in collaboration with Harbor Shores, secured the competitive grant and will be investing more than $2 million in the waterfront plaza in Benton Harbor. Located on Riverview Drive between Emma Jean Hull Flats and the Shipping Canal, the plaza will connect the community to 600 feet of frontage with amenities such as a water taxi dock, kayak launch, and fishing area. A fire pit, dog park, and food truck space, with shaded seating, offer additional opportunities to enjoy the waterfront. The public plaza will be available for community use year-round. 

“We look forward to partnering with local organizations to explore programming and event opportunities throughout the year,” Haan says. 

The opportunity to be part of a multi-community application through Berrien County Community Development was critical to securing the funds for the project, Haan says.

Where’s the money coming from: The development is buoyed by a contribution from the Whirlpool Foundation and the Benton Harbor City Commission approved a key $25,000 contribution to the project. Final fundraising efforts are nearly complete; Cornerstone Alliance and Harbor Shores are working to secure additional support for the project. Harbor Shores has contributed the space for this community-focused project and will provide ongoing maintenance. The MEDC grant covers half the cost for redeveloping the one-acre site.

What’s next: Construction is anticipated to begin this fall, with an early 2025 completion date.  The site sits along the shore of the Benton Harbor Ship Canal, at its junction with the St. Joseph River. Though the area is open to the public now, accessing the water is challenging — the shoreline is a steeply sloped, uneven, rocky surface.

What people are saying: “This space fits with our philosophy of creating amenities that the entire community can use and be proud of," says Chris Cook, managing director of Harbor Shores Community Redevelopment. "We are excited to have another way to access the water and an additional place for community programming and events."

Pamela Klyn, executive vice president of corporate relations and sustainability for Whirlpool Corp., says: “Our support for this project reflects Whirlpool Foundation's ongoing commitment to building a thriving community for all in the Twin Cities. We are optimistic that this investment will spur further development along the shoreline in the future."
For more information about Cornerstone Alliance and its initiatives, click here.

Rosemary Parker has worked as a writer and editor for more than 40 years. She is a regular contributor to Rural Innovation Exchange, UPword, and other Issue Media Group publications. 
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