Benton Harbor leaders outline parks proposal for residents

Benton Harbor leaders held their second meeting Thursday night to explain how a proposed parks conservancy would affect residents.

The conservancy board would be responsible for managing the struggling city's parks and raising money to improve them.

"In government, you rarely see an opportunity where you can cut costs and improve service," said Benton Harbor Emergency Financial Manager Tony Saunders. "That really doesn't happen in government."

But, some residents are skeptical about the idea.

They fear the board will make decisions based solely on money and not on what Benton Harbor residents want. Some are worried hotels could pop up at popular parks or the conservancy could take over the land.

"Any time you bring the same group in, the same group that are supporters of Whirlpool and not the people, I'm concerned about that," said Rev. Edward Pinkney.

Saunders says the parks will still belong to Benton Harbor; the city would just be signing a management contract with the board. Decisions on future development or even park permits would still be up to the commission.

It's a change some say will help the city get closer to its goal of earning back local control. And, they say it's the best option for residents, too.

"Our parks have been neglected a long time," said Commissioner Mary Alice Adams. "The graffiti, paper, waste and trees have just taken over."

The park conservancy still has to be approved by the Benton Harbor Commission.

Lawyers are drawing up a tentative 20-year management contract that could be presented by the end of July.

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