Plans unveiled for Benton Harbor's City Center Park

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. --- Splash pads and a skate park could replace a parking lot in downtown Benton Harbor. On Tuesday night, a joint task force from Michigan State and the Michigan Municipal League (MML) unveiled plans for the Dwight Pete Mitchell City Center Park. Right now, the space is half-concrete, half-grassy area with a few park benches.

"Benton Harbor is a very unique project because it's right in the center of town. It has all sorts of really good things happening around it, with the arts district and other things that are going on," said Warren Rauhe, an associate professor at Michigan State University.

Rauhe said the MSU-MML team asked communities if they would like to be involved in the PlacePlans project -- an initiative helping cities create usable spaces that spur social interaction and economic development. From a competitive grant process, they selected Benton Harbor and six other cities.

At the Benton Harbor Public Library, blueprints covered tables and filled the walls -- so did sticky notes with public input. There are two alternative renderings on the table. The first, a "people's park," features a multi-purpose stage, concession stand, Farmer's Market, and an urban wetland. The second plan, a "traditional park with a bold architectural attitude," has an events lawn, central fountain, and shaded space. What appear to be sails would cover the park's promenade.

The nautical flare of Plan #2 caught the eyes of Jerry Edwards, who was born and raised in Benton Harbor.

"[They add] an imagination to [the park], kind of gives people the impression that the city is really moving forward," said Edwards.

Rauhe said the plans aren't mutually exclusive.

"What we expect to happen probably is some sort of blend between the two plans that will make the best of the input we get tonight," he said.

The park may also features a 9-11 Resiliency Plaza.

"I hope we can create a sustainable, dynamic, vibrant place, where people want to be all the time. We want it to be the catalyst for economic development and a meeting place for Benton Harbor," said Marja Winters, Assistant City Manager of Benton Harbor.

The Michigan State Housing Development Authority covers most of the cost to create the mock-ups of City Center Park. Benton Harbor incurs a fraction of the bill.

Next year, Benton Harbor officials hope to break ground on a better City Center Park.