BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. – Cornerstone Alliance, Berrien County’s lead economic development agency, has secured a tentative commitment from Cressy Commercial Real Estate to build more than a dozen apartments and more than 3,000 square feet of commercial space in downtown Benton Harbor. The agreement is contingent upon support from the City of Benton Harbor and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).
With support from the City of Benton Harbor and the State of Michigan, Cressy Commercial Real Estate will redevelop the iconic building at the corner of Pipestone and Main Streets. The building, located at 126 Pipestone Street, was built in 1882 and originally referred to as the Gray Building. It underwent a facelift in 1961, and has since been referred to as the Harbor Center Building.
“This is a transformational project for the City of Benton Harbor and continues the momentum created by previous residential developments on Main Street and the Arts District,” said Greg Vaughn, Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Business Development at Cornerstone Alliance. “We met initially with the Benton Harbor Brownfield Redevelopment Authority and they understood the dire situation we were facing with the building. Their initial support was key to getting this project underway, so we began an exhaustive search to find a developer willing to redevelop the site. We were just weeks away from having the building demolished, so we’re grateful that Cressy Commercial Real Estate had a vision for the site and has spent the last six months trying to find a way to make this project work.”
Cornerstone Alliance purchased the building in October of 2017 with the intent of bringing new business and residents into the City of Benton Harbor. Cornerstone Alliance spent more than a year discussing the project with developers from Berrien County, the region and multiple states before reaching an agreement with Cressy Commercial Real Estate.
The Benton Harbor City Commission and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation both will play key roles in the project. Without support from both entities, the Harbor City Flats apartments cannot be built.
“Redevelopment of old buildings is not an easy thing to do and finding developers with a vision and patience to take them on is even more difficult,” said Rob Cleveland, Cornerstone Alliance President. “From the time we acquired the building, we knew the project involved a lot of risk. The building is in deplorable condition and needs immediate rehab or demolition. This collaborate effort took a multitude of partners. Greg Vaughn and Shane Kissack have made it their mission to bring this project to life. The MEDC has supported redevelopment of the building from the very beginning. Working with the Benton Harbor Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, Cressy Commercial Real Estate, Mayor Marcus Muhammad and several Benton Harbor Commissioners, we’ve all had a common goal – to preserve the building. I’m hopeful the City of Benton Harbor will take the necessary steps to bring new investment, new residents, new tax payers and new housing options to the City of Benton Harbor. Without the City’s support, the building will be demolished due to the public safety concerns and the condition of the building.”
Cornerstone Alliance arranged personal tours of the building in December 2018 for Benton Harbor City Commissioners and city personnel. Mayor Muhammad and a few of the Commissioners attended those tours that included a visit inside the building as well as renderings of what Harbor City Flats apartments may look like.
“The revitalization of downtown Benton Harbor is strongly tied to returning its wide array of historic buildings to active and dynamic use,” said Ken Ankli, developer and owner of The Sheffield at City Center, a newly renovated historic Benton Harbor building. “Every new renovation adds strength to those that have gone before. Every success attracts new interest; every success adds to the unique urban fabric of downtown. The transformation of Harbor Center underscores an established trend – people want to live in downtown Benton Harbor!”
With approvals from the Benton Harbor City Commission and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, construction could begin as early as June of 2019.