Harbor Shores Beacon of economic hope

August 5, 2010
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To call this development “ambitious” would be a gross understatement. “Ambitious” doesn’t come close to capturing the project’s potential grandness and hope for economic benefit. A more fitting description of the Harbor Shores Development might be “sweeping.”

Harbor Shores is a 530-acre mixed-use development planned for the Lake Michigan shoreline cities of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph and Benton Charter Township. The project includes 800 homes in four residential districts, two hotels, 44,000 square feet of commercial and retail space, an indoor water park, marinas, an upgrade for Jean Kloc Park, walking and biking paths, and an 18-hole golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus — who is christening the course by playing a round on it with Johnny Miller, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson Aug. 10.

Harbor Shores is a 20-year endeavor with an ultimate investment goal of $500 million.

The master developer for the project is Harbor Shores Community Redevelopment Inc., a nonprofit entity formed by the Whirlpool Foundation, the Consortium for Community Development and the region’s economic development organization, Cornerstone Alliance.

The underlying reason for Harbor Shores is to “revitalize the Benton Harbor and St. Joseph community and transform the area from a quaint Twin Cities area along Lake Michigan’s waterfront to take its place among the premiere vacation destination in the Midwest,” according to the development’s website.

The developer envisions Harbor Shores as a magnet to attract new companies, new people and new jobs to an area that began losing all three in the early 1980s. Job training and financial assistance for new firms also are part of the plan, as is increased tax revenue for the municipalities involved.

A projection has the cities of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph increasing their annual tax bases by $90 million and $93 million, respectively, with Benton Charter Township also gaining a $93 million increase. The development’s new residents also could generate an estimated $6,500 in per-pupil state funding for the public school systems. More sales tax revenue, state revenue sharing dollars and money for infrastructure improvements also are projected to emerge from a completed Harbor Shores.

Mark Hesemann is the managing director of the effort. He told CQ that the concept of Harbor Shores goes back to the mid-1980s when the area began transforming itself from a blue-collar manufacturing region to more of a vacation destination. “What do you do with all this industrial ground that will give back to the communities?” he said of the question that faced residents back then.

The idea for Harbor Shores finally took root in 2003 when a former top Whirlpool Corp. executive organized a group to look into job creation. The property became available the same year. Hesemann said he came into the picture that year and put together a planning team that would eventually define the project. “I would say 2003 is when the physical project really got legs,” he said.

As far as construction is concerned, The Golf Club at Harbor Shores is done. A Jack Nicklaus Signature Course, it opened to the public July 1, as did the driving range, and right on schedule. Two of the four residential neighborhoods, The Hideaway and The Fairways, are being built and the infrastructure for both is in place.

Situated along the Paw Paw River, the Hideaway is called a “cottage neighborhood.” The Paw Paw flows about 20 miles inland from Lake Michigan to the St. Joe River, and is about 100 feet wide at its widest point. Hesemann described The Hideaway as “kind of a neat wooded and secluded type of place.” One model home has been built and construction on another is underway. Two more are getting ready to be built.

As would be expected, The Fairways is a neighborhood of custom-built homes near the golf course, which covers about 200 acres of Harbor Shores. The two other residential areas are named after the harbor and the St. Joe shoreline. When all is said and done, Harbor Shores plans to offer about 800 homes in the four districts.

“Our Fairways neighborhood is … surrounded by three holes of Nicklaus golf. Every home is either on the golf (course), or on the water, or on both. And our Hideaway neighborhood is really more in the woods. It’s more for that person who wants to access that 12 miles of walking and biking trails, which run right behind the homes and right there on the river, where you can put your kayak in,” said Hesemann.

“The Shore District is really more about the beach. We have a lot of wonderful beaches here, including Jean Kloc Park and Silver Beach. So that residential opportunity is going to be a lot more oriented to people who want to come in for the weekend and head right to the beach. We don’t have anything that is actually on Lake Michigan, but we are literally blocks away.

“The Harbor District is our waterfront along the St. Joe River where we’ll have a couple of marinas. That will be condominiums and townhomes with kind of an active lifestyle, with restaurants, a little commercial space and botanical gardens. So it’s more for people who like to boat,” said Hesemann.

Two hotels are in the plans. One is a beach and golf lodge and spa with 80 rooms. The other is a 350-room hotel with a conference center that would cater more to the business traveler. “There is a tremendous shortage of meeting space and business accommodations, so we’re working along those lines, too,” said Hesemann.

The developer also has restored a pristine shoreline area along Lake Michigan by rehabbing spaces in public parks. Brownfield properties have been cleaned up and natural wetlands have been preserved.

Although a lot has been accomplished in a relatively short amount of time — especially considering the economic reality of the past few years — more investment has to be found and more time will elapse before the development is completed and the economic benefits can be fully realized and celebrated.

“I’d say somewhere right around a half-a-billion dollars,” said Hesemann of the projected total cost. “It’s a 20-year plan. I think in these markets today, it would be wonderful if it could happen faster than that. But we’re planning for it to take 20 years.”

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