A little over a year ago, we discussed the fact that, under the rule of unelected Emergency Manager, Joseph Harris, public properties in Benton Harbor were being sold for pennies on the dollar to wealthy investors, over the objections of the struggling city’s largely African American population. [As our friend Richard Murphy reminds us, in his note, which you can find at the end of this post, the groundwork for this theft of public land was completed years ago, under the Granholm administration.] One of these properties, as you may recall, was a piece of city-owned beachfront property know as Jean Klock Park. The people of Benton Harbor were told, by Harris, that the park had to be sold in order to cover the outstanding debts created by decreasing tax revenue. The purchaser, the people were told, was to be Whirlpool, a large corporation headquartered in the prosperous neighboring town of St. Joseph. The corporation, as people would soon find out, wanted to create an upscale, private, beachfront golf club. And, that’s exactly what happened… Now, a year later, this newly opened golf course will be hosting its first Professional Golf Association tournament. Fortunately, protesters are planning to attend from around the country, flying kites over the fairway, pulling banners behind them, bringing attention to the fact that this once-public land had been essentially stolen by the wealthy. The following note (slightly edited) comes from Jen Trombley, who is organizing a carpool from Ypsilanti.
…There will be two carpools happening.
In Ypsi, people will be meeting at the Ypsi Free Commune [407 W. Forest Ave, at the corner of Hamilton and Forest] at 8:00 AM. Cars will be taking off no later than 8:30 AM.
In Ann Arbor, people will be meeting at 515 East Jefferson at 7:30 AM sharp. By 7:45 AM, cars will be heading to 200 Wall Street in downtown Benton Harbor.
If possible, bring a kite with your sign on it. Otherwise, bring a sign, or just yourself. People are asked to wear black in solidarity, but its gonna be a hot one so don’t feel you must. Thanks comrades! Hope to see you there!!!!
Events apparently started yesterday, with a “death march” from Benton Harbor’s City Hall to the golf course.
And, demands were made… The following comes from the Occupy the PGA website.
“Concerned citizens of Benton Harbor demand: Transfer 25% of the 2012 Senior PGA profits to the citizens of Benton Harbor as partial rightful compensation for stolen land and water and for the purpose of meeting budget deficits and building affordable housing for the people of Benton Harbor.”
[note: I'm assuming they mean 25% of the profits from this one event, and not from the PGA Senior Tour's entire season, but it's not clear.]
The Governor, who was at the golf course a few days ago, celebrating with the likes of Jack Nicklaus, described the redevelopment project as, “Pure Michigan”. (Sadly, I think that he’s right.) The following comes from the Herald Palladium:
…Before meeting with golf legend Jack Nicklaus, designer of the course hosting the Senior PGA Championship, Snyder took the time to tout the event as a major boost for the region and the state.
“It’s Pure Michigan,” Snyder said, echoing the state’s tourism motto. “From what it was before, to what it is now, it’s fabulous.”
The governor was referring to the many years of planning and development that went into turning former industrial sites, and some park land, into the sprawling venue that drew the PGA for what he called “a magnet event.”
He offered kudos to the people of Benton Harbor for working with Whirlpool Corp. and Cornerstone Alliance to make Harbor Shores a reality.
In answer to another query, Snyder said he was not concerned about possible protests during the event from residents angry about the acquisition of part of Jean Klock Park for the golf course.
State officials in Lansing have to deal with tough issues, including a tight budget, but he said this is not the time to worry about those matters.
“It’s time to celebrate and have fun.”…
As of right now, there’s no word as to whether or not Snyder will be taking any of the poor children who used to play at Jean Klock Park to “celebrate and have fun” at the new, exclusive golf club.
update: As our friend Murph reminds us, this project was in the works years before Joseph Harris was appointed to rule Benton Harbor. Here’s his comment.
If you want to look for the story of Jean Klock Park, you need to start years ago, long before Governor Snyder’s tenure or Joe Harris’ installment in Benton Harbor.
Try this Freep article from 2007, talking about the City Council selling land from the park for development in 2003, and then approving the long-term lease of land to Harbor Shores for development of the golf course in 2006. Governor Granholm’s administration gave $120 million in incentives to the developers. There have been years of lawsuits in the State and Federal courts trying to block the development of the golf course.
So, sure, Harris happened to be in place by the time the golf course opened, and he has further restricted public access to the park since then, but laying the development of the golf course at his feet is ridiculous — and absolves all the people who were /actually/ responsible for its development.
Jean Klock Park /is/ a great case of the public trust betrayed to the benefit of the wealthy — and of a community backed into a corner and forced to be complicit in that betrayal — and I’m sure that the people of Benton Harbor are glad the rest of us are (finally) paying attention, but if we lay blame at the feet of the Emergency Manager and Governor Snyder, we’ve failed to actually learn the lesson here.