The dunes rise higher than 100 feet above the wide beach at Jean Klock Park, the only public lakefront park in Benton Harbor, Michigan. In some places they're almost pure white, glaring and brilliant in the sun, and in others they're exploding with native trees, grasses, and wildflowers. From the crests you can see miles of beach to the south, more rolling dunes and bluffs to the north, downtown Benton Harbor to the east, and of course the countless shades of blue in Lake Michigan to the west. From certain spots, on certain extraordinarily clear nights, it's possible to see the tiny sparkling lights of downtown Chicago, some 60 miles across the water.
To many of Klock's biggest advocates, the dunes are the park: more than any other part of the 73-acre public space, they're a refuge, a preserve, a salve for the blight that dominates the center of town a couple of miles to the east. "Perhaps some of you do not own a foot of ground. Remember then, that this is your park, it belongs to you," said John Klock, a local newspaper publisher, when he gave the land to the city of Benton Harbor in 1917 in honor of his daughter.
But from the vantage point of the dunes it's hard to fathom just how desperate Benton Harbor has become. Once an important regional port and industrial center, over the last few decades it's become a national symbol of economic decline, best known for factory closures, struggling schools, racial isolation, and violent crime, including several days of arson and rioting that brought international media to town in 2003. Just about everyone around town, from every walk of life, agrees that something needs to be done—something drastic.
In 2005 the community's most powerful business interests and elected officials unveiled a master plan they'd been working on for years. The Harbor Shores Project would revolve around converting 530 acres of polluted postindustrial land between Klock Park and downtown Benton Harbor into a tourist mecca for Chicagoans and other out-of-towners with money to spend. There'd be hotels, weekend and vacation homes, new businesses, maybe even a water park. And the main attraction would be a world-class golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus.
Hundreds or perhaps thousands of new jobs would be generated, according to the nonprofit organizations behind the plan, and Benton Harbor's tax base could double. The city of Benton Harbor was all for it, as were the local congressman, federal housing and environmental officials, the governor and several state agencies, and officials in neighboring Saint Joseph, Benton Harbor's white, middle-class "twin" (where I grew up and where much of my family still lives) across the Saint Joseph River. Millions of dollars in federal and state grants were already on the way, and millions more were coming from appliance giant Whirlpool, the primary economic engine in the area. Most residents responded with some mix of awe and enthusiasm, and over the next couple years even many of Benton Harbor's most hardened cynics—people frustrated by years of empty promises and community deterioration—came around.
But there remained one snag—a sort of Harbor Shores sand trap. Not everybody felt quite right about turning those dunes in Klock Park into holes seven, eight, and nine of the exclusive new golf course.
One Sunday afternoon in mid-May, a small bus pulled onto the road that runs through the middle of the park. On most days the 19-seat vehicle is part of the Benton Harbor area's public transit fleet, but today it was being used to shuttle curious locals on guided tours of the Harbor Shores site, compliments of the three nonprofit organizations serving as its developers, all closely tied to and largely funded by Whirlpool.
Wendy Dant Chesser stood at the front of the bus, gracefully keeping her balance as it bounced over rough pavement and then pulled off the road. Chesser heads the Cornerstone Alliance, one of the nonprofits, and serves as a top officer in another, the Alliance for World-Class Communities. Speaking with a friendly Kentucky lilt, she directed everyone's attention toward the dunes.
Jack Nicklaus had been in town just the day before to look over the site again; he's personally designing much of the course and has insisted from the start that it needs the grand lake views offered by the dunes.
"We don't want this to be just another golf course—we need it to be spectacular," Chesser said. "This is not a golf course project. It's a community transformation project that uses golf as a driver."
If the project goes through as planned, the dunes would no longer be open to the general population. The course would technically be public, but it's expected to be expensive, more so than other high-rated courses in the area. On the other hand, the dunes wouldn't actually be destroyed, Chesser pointed out—they'd be incorporated into the course. In return, Harbor Shores would donate land to the park—farther away from the lake—to make up for the lost acreage. It would also cover the park's maintenance expenses and pay the city of Benton Harbor $30,000 a year in rent.
Several people on the bus, most of them white, middle-class couples from surrounding towns, murmured their approval. "You mean there are actually people in Benton Harbor opposed to this?" said one man, shaking his head.
Chesser smiled and nodded. "I will try to characterize the opposition," she said. "They say they're preservationists." But the park is rarely used, she went on, because it's a couple miles from residential neighborhoods and poorly maintained by a city government strapped for funds. "They say the park is supposed to be forever reserved for the children of Benton Harbor. Well, my argument is that the children of Benton Harbor are not using it today."
Just a couple hours after Chesser's bus made its stop near the dunes, Carol Drake was standing at the foot of them amid a multiracial group of golf course opponents. Drake, a wiry woman with a scratchy voice, was toting a binder full of court records and planning documents related to Harbor Shores. "Four generations of my family have used the park," she said. "It's a part of me."
A couple years ago Drake helped start Friends of Jean Klock Park and launched an accompanying Web site compiling historical records and documentation about the Harbor Shores plan. In recent weeks she'd been advertising her own tours in one of the local newspapers: "Would you like to take a tour of the Harbor Shores project to have a balance [sic] perspective?"
"Would I like to see something change around here?" she asked her group. "Absolutely! Absolutely! But not this."
Her allies offered their amens. "They say nobody uses the park, but the trash needs to be picked up. I don't get that," said Clellen Bury, a retired factory worker and a cofounder of Friends of Jean Klock Park.
The sun was so bright that Larry Streeter was squinting, even though he wore his ball cap low. Streeter, a former electrical repairman, is the kind of guy who's bursting with big ideas and happy to think through them aloud with whoever will listen: Benton Harbor could be brought back to health by filling its abandoned industrial land with wind turbines and creating an environmentally friendly power plant. The Harbor Shores people could build an environmental museum on the old industrial lands. Or how about a convention center in the middle of the wetlands? They could construct a planetarium—or maybe an aquarium. Why not both?
But Streeter can't get behind any big idea that involves turning the dunes into a golf course. "When I stand on that dune, it's not worth anything," Streeter said. "But when Jack Nicklaus stands on it and raises his golf club like Moses raising his staff, it's invaluable."
Waterfront access and Chicago money have always steered Benton Harbor's fortunes. The town was built around a naturally protected harbor just upstream from the mouth of the Saint Joseph River, and by the late 19th century it was thriving, particularly as a shipping center for fruit grown on Michigan farms and destined for Chicago and elsewhere. In 1911 in Saint Joseph, brothers Frederick and Lou Upton, along with their uncle Emery, invented an electric washing machine that sent clothes through a wringer to squeeze out the excess water. With $5,000 in seed money from a Chicago businessman, they founded the Upton Machine Company and within a few years were making wringer washers for Chicago retail giant Sears, Roebuck and Company. By the 1940s Upton had created the first automatic spin washer, which Sears sold as part of its Kenmore appliance line.
With World War II vets home and eager to set up house, the late 1940s and the 1950s were excellent years to be in the appliance business. The company, which by 1950 would become Whirlpool, expanded into refrigerators, dryers, air conditioners, and stoves. Its manufacturing plant on the border of Saint Joseph and Benton Harbor employed 1,400 workers. Other manufacturers in the area made parts for Detroit's Big Three, which were trying to feed unprecedented demand for new cars.
As in other northern cities, the demand for labor helped fuel a massive migration of African-Americans from the south. Saint Joseph, historically the grittier of southwest Michigan's twin cities, was known for being hostile to blacks, so they typically stayed away; Benton Harbor was the better choice.
By the early 1960s African-Americans made up 25 percent of Benton Harbor's population of 19,000—the largest population in its history. But the city was struggling with its new diversity. Public housing and local schools were strictly segregated, and tensions often flared up when lines were crossed. In August 1966 police attempted to break up a group of several dozen teenagers as they walked from a black neighborhood toward downtown. The youths responded by throwing rocks, and a scuffle broke out that turned into five days of rioting. When a black teen was killed by a shot from a passing car, Governor George Romney (father of recent presidential candidate Mitt) dispatched nearly 1,800 national guard troops to patrol the streets.
Whites and their businesses started to migrate to Saint Joseph and other nearby communities. By 1970 African-Americans outnumbered whites in Benton Harbor, and by 1980 they made up nearly 90 percent of the population, which had fallen by more than a quarter from its peak. At the same time, the regional economy was undergoing a major transition. To save labor costs, manufacturers began moving jobs to the south, then overseas. By 1974 Benton Harbor's unemployment rate had risen above 10 percent. It hasn't been in single digits since.
Whirlpool's corporate headquarters remain in Benton Township, just outside city limits, and the company still employs about 275 people at a Benton Harbor manufacturing facility. But in the mid-80s the company shuttered its large Saint Joseph assembly plant—just one of many blows the twin cities, with a combined population under 25,000, sustained during a year-and-a-half period during which 5,500 jobs were lost. Over the next decade the trend continued. Some departing companies left behind hundreds of acres of polluted brownfields and wetlands, including a 17-acre Superfund site contaminated by radioactive paint while it was occupied by parts supplier Aircraft Components.
The response from area political and business leaders was halting when there was a response at all. Most of the industrial land was deemed unusable and therefore sat unused. In Benton Harbor, crime rates surged and graduation rates fell. By 2000, a third of all families there were led by single mothers, and half of households with children were below the poverty line. As more families turned to public aid to get by, lots of people in Saint Joseph and neighboring communities—including former residents—dismissed the town with racial stereotypes. "Benton Harlem," they said, had been overrun by welfare queens and dangerous criminals. Downtown retailers like Sears and JCPenney left for the new mall outside of town. Even the YMCA pulled out to build new digs in the middle of farmland just south of Saint Joseph. It got hard to find a Whirlpool product for sale in the city of Benton Harbor.
Saint Joseph's trajectory was far different. Many of the families and businesses that fled Benton Harbor ended up there or in the nearby townships that are part of the same school system. Graduates almost all went on to college or skilled trades. As the Berrien County seat, Saint Joseph supported scores of government employees, while its courthouse and hospital brought lawyers and doctors. Despite the loss of low-skill manufacturing work, unemployment remained low as people moved into service jobs or simply left the area. The town's permanent population, still more than 90 percent white, continued a long trend of slowly shrinking but becoming more affluent: it was down to about 8,800 in 2000 from 9,200 a decade earlier, and its median household income climbed to just below the national average. Tourism never took off there as it had in other lakefront towns to the south and north—a fact some locals blamed on Benton Harbor's proximity and others on the town's reputation for racial intolerance. But visitors gradually started to account for more and more of the Saint Joseph economy. Many of the working-class houses near the lake were bought by out-of-towners looking for a getaway, and the old furniture and clothing stores downtown gave way to gift shops and cafes.
Across the river there were numerous attempts to turn things around. In the mid-80s Michigan State University sent experts from its Center for Urban Affairs to work in the community and come up with solutions, but the effort fizzled. In 1986 the state began offering ten years of tax breaks to businesses that would set up shop in Benton Harbor; that helped slow the pace of decline but didn't provoke any kind of major renewal. Whirlpool helped fund Cornerstone, a nonprofit development organization, starting in 1988, and a new arts district lured more outsiders downtown than anything in years. Private foundations and the state and federal governments offered millions of dollars in grants for schools, social services, and infrastructure.
But Benton Harbor's tax base had eroded badly. There were times in the late 90s when low pay and chronic staff turnover left only three police officers patrolling the entire town of 11,000 at any given time. The Saint Joseph fire department began responding to calls in Benton Harbor because the Benton Harbor force was often short-staffed. The city commission, fractured by bitter political feuds, was simply unable to confront the town's problems. Talented young people—including comedian Sinbad, several basketball stars, and countless top students—finished school and started their professional lives elsewhere, given few reasons to return.
In the late 90s, after Alex Kotlowitz published his book The Other Side of the River, about the racial divide between the twin cities, community leaders formed groups to get people talking about ways to turn the area's diversity into a strength. There was a sense that the tide might be about to turn.
Then the riots broke out.
Early on the morning of June 16, 2003, police pursued a 28-year-old black motorcyclist through some of Benton Harbor's poorest neighborhoods. The chase ended fatally when the rider, Terrance Shurn, crashed his bike into the side of an abandoned building. It wasn't the first time a young Benton Harbor man had been killed during a scrape with local cops—in retrospect maybe it's surprising that few previous incidents ever escalated into more violence.
That night furious residents showed up at the Benton Harbor city commission meeting and demanded reprisal against the cop involved in the chase. Afterward a group of people walked to the scene of the accident a few blocks away, and when police ordered them to disperse they turned rowdy. Someone set an abandoned house on fire. The group grew to dozens, then hundreds, and other buildings were torched. The four police officers on duty were outnumbered and, according to a later account from the police chief, poorly equipped and rattled by the anger and size of the crowd. Rocks and bricks were thrown; the police weren't able to do much except wait it out.
Crowds the next night were larger and surlier. Cars were set afire, along with more buildings. Police were shot at, passersby were jumped and roughed up, firefighters were targeted with bricks. A photojournalist told local reporters that after he was attacked he hid in the bushes until the mob moved away. More than 200 police from surrounding areas showed up to help, and camera crews from around the country put the whole thing on TV. It was about 4 AM before the neighborhood was calm, but the following evening rain and fatigue seemed to keep the rage off the streets.
It could have been worse: only a handful of people ended up hurt, none critically, and all of the 20 or so buildings burned were abandoned or empty at the time. Long afterward police maintained that the violence had been instigated by a few "gangsters" itching for a fight. Investigators later determined that at least some of the perpetrators didn't even live in Benton Harbor—they'd driven in from surrounding areas.
Many Benton Harbor residents argue that coverage of the "civil disturbance"—the word riot almost immediately fell out of favor locally—grossly distorted its scope. "I'm sitting in my home working on my computer about four blocks from where that's all going on and I didn't even know it was happening," says Larry Streeter. "I get a call from California: 'What the hell's going on in Benton Harbor?' I went outside and saw a couple of houses on fire.... Trust me, it was way overblown, and I was in the middle of it."
But the damage was done. Lots of out-of-towners were already wary of Benton Harbor; after hearing stories that people just driving through had been caught up in a race riot, who'd want to come within a mile of the place?
Business leaders fretted about the possibility of a complete collapse in the area. Locals wondered what the next round of bad news would be. More riots when the summer heated up? A state takeover of the town? An announcement from Whirlpool that it was pulling the plug?
None of that happened, in part because Governor Jennifer Granholm moved quickly, sending a team of advisers to Benton Harbor to help community leaders create a 23-member "task force" charged with mapping out a turnaround for the town. Over the next few months the group, made up of area politicians, police, business leaders, and teenagers, met regularly, held public discussions, and visited communities in other parts of the state.
In October 2003 the task force issued a 103-page report listing dozens of suggestions and goals related to criminal justice, public health, education, and diversity, from the abstract and obvious ("Reducing the high school drop-out rate in Benton Harbor is central to improving the life chances of area youth") to the ultraspecific ("Increase the capacity of the community access [TV] channel in Benton Harbor").
The section on economic development was no less sprawling than the rest of the report, recommending things like a summer-jobs program for youth and an expansion of job-training services. But at its center was a proposal to stake Benton Harbor's future on tourism. Considering "Benton Harbor's proximity to Chicago, Indianapolis, and Detroit, the Berrien County market is within a four-hour drive of millions of people," the report read. "The ability to grow tourism can create job opportunities ranging from entry level wait staff to hospitality management professionals." The ideas for making Benton Harbor more tourist friendly included building an amusement park, creating a "fishing village" to attract second-home buyers, and starting a "golf course and first tee program that affords Benton Harbor residents preferred opportunities in conjunction with the influx of tourism."
Yet the specific plan that emerged over the next two years wasn't part of the report. And it became increasingly clear that the task force wasn't the only forum for discussion about Benton Harbor's future—or even the most important one.
In August 2003, even as the task force was meeting, Granholm's office announced that Whirlpool and the state department of transportation were giving the city of Benton Harbor 29 acres of unused land as part of a new project to develop an area between downtown and Klock Park. Granholm announced that it would eventually include new condominiums and recreational areas along the polluted Paw Paw River.
Almost two more years passed before leaders began to share significant details about the project with the public. They emphasized that it would turn unused, contaminated land into new housing, retail, and possibly a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course while generating millions of dollars in tax revenues and hundreds of jobs. And it would include a set of "community benefits" plans to provide literacy programs, job training, parenting classes, improved housing, and other social services to Benton Harbor's neediest residents.
"We've already asked, 'If not this, what?' and 'If not now, when?'" Jeff Noel told the Herald-Palladium in May 2005. Noel, Whirlpool's corporate vice president for communications and public affairs, headed the Cornerstone Alliance before Wendy Dant Chesser. "Now we're ready to ask, 'Are there any better ideas out there?'" The Benton Harbor city commission agreed that June to proceed with additional planning, though some commissioners had concerns about the lack of information they'd received. Project leaders promised more information would be forthcoming.
Not until drawings of the development began circulating that summer did it become clear that chunks of Klock Park—about 22 of its 73 acres—would be surrendered to Harbor Shores development. Drake and other park advocates vowed to fight the plan; its proponents said the plan wasn't final and emphasized that the dunes would only be leased out, not given away or sold.
In truth the golf course had become more than an engine for developing Benton Harbor—it was at the center of negotiations whose outcome would affect hundreds of workers in Michigan and beyond.
Granholm was elected governor in 2002, and for much of the time since then, Michigan has had one of the worst economies in the nation, a result primarily of the staggering decline of the Detroit auto industry. From mid-2000 to the end of 2007 the state lost more than 400,000 jobs, mostly in manufacturing, and consistently had the country's highest unemployment rate. Last year even the Onion took a poke at the situation, under the headline "Thousands Lose Jobs as Michigan Unemployment Offices Close."
Whirlpool was having its own problems, though they weren't obvious from the outside—in 2003 and 2004 the company reported record sales, including sizable increases in Europe and Latin America, and posted healthy earnings. But word around the twin cities was that the company feared it couldn't recruit and keep the diverse, smart young people it needed to run a Fortune 200 company when they had the choice to live in places like New York, San Francisco, or Chicago.
Whether Whirlpool ever directly threatened to leave Benton Harbor is a matter of dispute—the Detroit Free-Press reported last year that it did, but Jeff Noel says that's not true. "The answer is unequivocally no," he says. "We did not threaten to leave this area." Either way, it's clear the company sought and received Granholm's help with plans to make the area attractive to its executives and visitors from out of town. Some Whirlpool leaders, including David Whitwam, the CEO from 1987 to 2004, were talking about turning its vacant land and nearby contaminated property into a "resort-type development"—possibly including a golf course—as early as the 1980s, according to Chesser. But it never happened. Whitwam used to say the costs of cleaning up the land were too high. But then he never worked out a deal where the public would pick up part of the tab.
In August 2005 Whirlpool announced that it would acquire its longtime rival Maytag. If there were ever a convenient time for the company to pull out of Benton Harbor, this was it. But as the acquisition moved to a close over the next few months, Granholm worked to ensure that wouldn't happen. The following May Whirlpool announced that the change would eliminate 3,000 old Maytag jobs in Iowa, Illinois, Canada, and Mexico—but bring 1,100 to Ohio and 400 to Saint Joseph and Benton Harbor.
"When we acquired Maytag, people asked us, 'If you're going to be expanding, would you expand here?'" says Noel. "And we looked around like any good business would and asked, 'Where would it be best for us?' We needed to have the best package we could. In the end, in fact, it was an offer from the governor, saying, 'We certainly hope you will bring the jobs here [to the twin cities]. And we know you want to see the Harbor Shores project come together, so why don't we do it all together?'"
Within the week Granholm's office announced it was awarding Whirlpool $10.4 million in tax credits. And that wasn't all. The state was also finding more than $10 million more for the Harbor Shores project, mostly for environmental cleanup and road construction. The governor promised to help the developers with environmental permits and other regulatory assistance, and she delivered. Three threatened plant species grow within the project boundaries, according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, but officials there ruled that the development wouldn't seriously affect them. The MDEQ also dismissed questions from some residents about the effects of fertilizer runoff on the lake. And while acknowledging opposition to the use of dunes for the golf course, a department official wrote that "we accept the tenet that the City most directly represents its people." As the Benton Harbor commission had approved the deal, the department had no objections.
Meanwhile Whirlpool agreed to pitch in another $12 million. More help came from area congressman Fred Upton—who's Frederick's grandson and, according to his most recent economic disclosure statement, holds at least a million dollars' worth of Whirlpool stock. After the congressman's lobbying, several federal agencies offered Harbor Shores grants worth millions of dollars more. The bulldozers went to work clearing land and removing contaminated debris—more than 100,000 tons of it in the first few months.
While the use of the dunes remains the central focus of most of the project's opponents, some also wonder if the jobs it creates really will help Benton Harbor residents. "I know the project could be a catalyst. But as it is designed right now, it is not," says Juanita Henry, the lone Benton Harbor city commissioner who's been openly skeptical about Harbor Shores. Local residents, she believes, don't need the kind of jobs created by a golf course. "Getting us to clean the trash, showers, bathrooms, doing menial work.... These are all low-end jobs and very seasonal. I just want to make sure our citizens get something to help them right now."
Drake points to a pair of studies commissioned by Harbor Shores that together suggest a fair amount of guesswork is involved in predicting the project's economic benefits. The first, conducted in 2005, estimates that Harbor Shores could create more than 2,500 permanent jobs and $78 million in annual personal income by 2012; the second, completed this year, puts the figures at 700 jobs and $29 million in annual personal income by 2020. "The majority of home owners in the city are single mothers," Drake says. "Their daily struggle is to survive every day. And there's not going to be one job created by this project that will change somebody's lives."
That's not the right way to look at it, says Marcus Robinson, who's directing the community-benefits portion of the project. Robinson says Benton Harbor only has about 5,000 adults, so even though its unemployment rate is about 17 percent, that only works out to about 850 people—and that's a number that can be lowered quickly.
"When you wrap your head around that, you say, 'We can do something about this once and for all," he says, adding that the possibilities aren't limited to seasonal work on the golf course—there are already training programs that can help people move into jobs in health care and the trades, for example. "Your personal trajectory is totally up to you—if you want to get trained for $10- or $12-an-hour jobs and that's all you want to do for yourself, that's fine," he says. "But when we talk about job creation, we're not just talking about the golf course itself. If we have the course we're supposed to have some homes built, and we're going to need some laborers to build them. Those are good-paying jobs. They won't last forever, and they won't be for everybody, but we're talking about a couple of hundred of them. And once this thing is done, they'll have some skills they can take with them."
Last fall the deal was abruptly put on hold—not because the opposition succeeded but because of a supposedly routine review by a federal agency with little direct involvement in the project.
In the 1970s the city of Benton Harbor had received a grant from the National Park Service to build a public bathhouse at Jean Klock Park. In accepting the $50,000, the city agreed that all of the park had to remain open for public recreational use forever; any conversion of parkland would have to be offset by new land of equal or greater utility.
In October the Park Service nixed the city's proposal to lease the dunes in return for permanent possession of about 40 acres of wetlands that stretch up to a couple of miles away. The agency's explanation seemed damning: the city hadn't properly solicited public comment on the proposal, and the replacement parcels weren't worth as much as the leased land. Worst of all, the wording of the agreement gave so much park access to Harbor Shores that "it is our opinion that the control and tenure of the entirety of Jean Klock Park and that of all of the proposed replacement lands have also been conveyed from Benton Harbor" to Harbor Shores, according to a letter outlining the agency's objections.
Supporters of the land swap were shocked. "While it is remarkable that a three decades old, $50,369.75 federal grant for bathrooms at Jean Klock Park ... has resulted in the minor delay, it is imperative that every 'I' is dotted and 'T' is crossed on a project of this magnitude that will transform the entire region," Congressman Upton said in a written statement. The governor vowed to appeal the decision.
She didn't need to. As work on other parts of the project continued, Harbor Shores and the city of Benton Harbor consulted with parks officials and rewrote their agreement in a way they believe clears up the question of control over Jean Klock Park. The developers have offered a few alternative tracts and promised to outfit them with more amenities, such as hiking trails, but Drake and other park defenders argue that the replacement parcels are polluted and of little use to the public.
All that remains is the public comment portion of the agreement. Dozens of people attended a public hearing in mid-April, according to the Herald-Palladium, and the vast majority expressed support for the project. Both sides encouraged their supporters to submit their views in writing to the city before the comment period ended on May 17. The city is expected to forward these comments, with its own responses, to the Park Service sometime in the next month, and the agency will try to make a final decision by mid-July.
"We'll have to very carefully read the final documents—we never want to have the appearance of being a rubber stamp for anyone," said Bob Anderson, chief of the midwest region's grants division.
But he stressed that his agency isn't out to determine the worthwhileness of the project—only whether the terms of the grant are being followed. "I feel very badly for everyone who has a personal attachment to this—I wish we could wave a wand and make everyone happy, but we can't," he said. "We are neutral on this. We don't live there and we don't own the property. It's one of those situations that when the facts come across our desks we'll do our best to review them."
Larry Streeter, the retired repairman, says he can't get past the feeling that this is all a way for Whirlpool to sweeten the deals it offers its high-paid executives. "I don't even know if you can call this gentrification—it's beyond that," he said. "The deal was made long ago to make this into a French Riviera. This will be their playhouse.... But for us, we're trying to save our lakefront." Like Juanita Henry, Streeter doesn't believe jobs that pay living wages will come out of the project.
Noel says it's "preposterous" to think Harbor Shores is all about entertainment for Whirlpool execs, noting that the company has invested in a range of municipal and social service projects in the community for years. Plus, he adds, golfers don't need Harbor Shores as much as the city's tax base does: there are several other renowned golf courses within a short drive of Benton Harbor. "But I would say that they're right in one respect," he says. "Whirlpool is interested in this project to help this community achieve sustainability. And yes, if that happens, we too will benefit."
In the time since the Park Service intervened, Benton Harbor's needs have again been thrown into stark relief. Last fall a mishap at the city's antiquated water plant, which sits at the south end of the Klock Park dunes, forced residents to boil their drinking water for several days. And in February the Herald-Palladium revealed that the MDEQ had recently given the water system a "deficient" grade. City officials promised that public health was not at risk, but they said that because they didn't have the money to make repairs they would seek a $14.5 million loan from the state.v