Get Ready to Share Your Dreamscape For the St. Joseph-Benton Harbor Waterfront

When you are dining at Plank's Tavern at The Inn at Harbor Shores and look out across the inner harbor, what would you like to see on the opposite side of the water? When you are walking along the Margaret Upton Arboretum below the John & Dede Howard Bandshell in St. Joseph and you look at the opposite side of the river, what would make your heart race with excitement if you saw it on that shore? When visiting the Berrien County Courthouse and you scan the horizon over the harbor and into downtown Benton Harbor, what would your wildest dreams envision there? The Twin Cities Sustainable Harbors Initiative would like to know.

You have several chances to describe your dreamscape for them beginning as early as next week, as they facilitate the development of long-term, sustainable strategies that enable Michigan's Great Lakes coastal communities like ours to maximize the benefits of our harbor and waterfront.

Michigan is home to more than 100 public marinas and harbors, managed by state, county, or local governments. They are part of a boating culture that draws $2.4 billion in economic activity to the state each year.

St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, just like other coastal communities, face multiple challenges such as increasingly scarce state and federal funding as well as fluctuating water levels, increased storm volatility, flooding, and erosion. Signage, access, and connectivity to other community nodes are also challenges. The good news is, this project addresses these challenges. The Michigan Office of the Great Lakes has awarded a $75,000 grant to create a plan for the harbor.

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The organization's Project Manager Don Carpenter told St. Joseph City Commissioners Monday night that this renewed effort will be a grassroots effort to produce "a shared vision" for our harbor and waterfront areas. Meetings to discuss waterfront developments are being scheduled, with increasingly detailed discussion going forward.

Carpenter's team has considerable experience in getting focused, having worked with other Great Lakes ports such as Pentwater, New Baltimore and Rogers City. There are reps from multiple agencies assisting in the sessions including the local Twin City Harbor Conservancy, Michigan State University Extension, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Office of the Great Lakes and the Michigan Sea Grant team.

While the open session next week welcomes anyone, there are a number of focus groups being specifically targeted due to their proximity to the harbor and waterfront areas including:

  • The Benton Harbor Arts District
  • The Edgewater Neighborhood Association
  • The Island Shores condominium association
  • The Eagle Point condominium association
  • The Two Rivers Coalition
  • The Berrien County Conservation District
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Central Dock
  • Pier 33 Marina
  • The Harbor Shores Resort
  • The St. Joseph River Yacht Club
  • Whirlpool Corporation

The multi-step process is detailed below, with times and dates indicated and all public sessions taking place at the offices of Kinexus at 499 W. Main Street in Benton Harbor.

To assist the communities in creating a shared harbor vision, the Department of Natural Resources’ Office of the Great Lakes, the Harbor Conservancy, Michigan Sea Grant, and partners are organizing a Twin Cities Harbor Visioning Charrette.

A charrette is a brainstorming workshop that integrates residents’ voices into the planning process through a series of community meetings. The goal of these community meetings and discussions will be to lead to a clear, shared vision for the Twin Cities Harbor that reflects the entire harbor community.

That vision is important for the communities and their futures because it is constructed by all affected parties - a compilation of everyone’s ideas and voices. It is hoped that the implementation of such a shared vision will increase public confidence, participation, and support in the communities as well as economic, cultural, social, and environmental community sustainability, adding value to the harbor.

Here is what the planned discussion timelines show:

Phase 1 – Research, Outreach, Charrette Preparation

July – September 2018

  • Gather existing documents, make presentations to local commissions, host facilitated focus groups, and plan for the charrette.

Phase 2 – Charrette Process

Host multiple community engagement meetings at Kinexus, at 499 West Main Street, Benton Harbor.

  • September 19th, 6 – 8 pm
    Initial Harbor Vision Workshop
  • October 9th, 6 – 8 pm
    Harbor Design Workshop
  • October 10th, 6 – 8 pm
    Harbor Options Open House
  • October 11th, 4 – 6 pm
    Preferred Option Presentation

Phase 3 – Post Charrette

November 2018 – January 2019

  • Create a final design report that documents the generation of the final shared vision for the Twin Cities Harbor.
  • Present final shared vision for the Twin Cities Harbor in a public forum.

February 2019 – March 2019

  • Host governance focus groups (Harbor Conservancy, Elected Officials, Stakeholder groups) to discuss governance structures to implement the vision.

The photo of a portion of the local harbor accompanying this story on Moody on the Market is courtesy of the Twin Cities Harbor Visioning Charrette organizers.