Parks rebound plan ok with former Benton Harbor basketball star

Benton Harbor’s parks are poised for a ‘rebound’ with the help of professional basketball player Wilson Chandler.

“I’m from Benton Harbor you know, and I grew up playing in the parks so I just want to see the kids be able to have somewhere to play at, someone to look up to, and something to look forward to,” said Chandler.

Chandler is a Benton Harbor native who led the high school to an undefeated regular season, and was named Michigan’s Mr. Basketball in 2005.

Chandler now plays for the N.B.A.’s Denver Nuggets.

Today Chandler was in town to throw his support behind a plan to take park management and operation responsibilities away from the city, and put them in the hands of a private, not-for-profit entity, known as the Benton Harbor Park Conservancy.

“For one thing, if people want to donate to a park or if they want to adopt a park, there’s not really a mechanism for that through the city administration,” said Benton Harbor Park Conservancy Co-Chair Jessica Stauffer. “You can’t walk into the city offices and say ‘I’d like to donate $5 to Union Park but with a conservancy you can.” C

It’s hoped that contributions to the conservancy would be tax deductible.

Benton Harbor is so financially strapped it is being run by a state appointed Emergency Financial Manager.

“Anytime you look at our parks you’ll see why they’re (the conservancy) needed, I mean, we have needles, we have broken glass, we have grass that’s knee high sometimes,” said Benton Harbor Emergency Financial Manager Tony Saunders. “From a public safety perspective they couldn’t be more important. That’s where our kids congregate and that’s where they spend most of their time so we need to make sure that they’re safe and they’re clean and they’re secure.”
It’s hoped an agreement to hand over management of the parks for a term of some 20 years will be completed in July, although park improvements probably wouldn’t begin until 2014.

“Whether it’s bringing people together for a family reunion
or whether it’s going to a little league game I mean there's just that warm fuzzy and everybody wants that in their life,” said Jessica Stauffer.

Two town hall meetings on the topic have been scheduled for Tuesday June 18th, and Thursday June 20th. Both will start at 7:00 p.m. at city hall.

Chandler said it’s possible that he would contribute financially to the conservancy when the time came.

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