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From the Phoenix Cafe, Benton Harbor

January 7, 2010

I am currently sitting in a beautiful, crowded cafe in downtown Benton Harbor, Michigan, drinking gourmet, organic coffee.

I don’t know if you could write that in seriousness ten years ago, or even five. The Phoenix is a purveyor of fine food, Intelligensia Coffee, wireless internet, and an urban vibe. It is on Water Street, just across Main from the boarded up State Theatre, the abandoned Mary’s City of David Hotel, a Tabor Hill wine tasting room, and the new Six Degrees Thrift Store. Next door to the Phoenix is OutCenter, a gay and lesbian support center, and from the front door of the Phoenix, and if you yelled loud enough, you could probably be heard on the back nine of Harbor Shores Golf Course, the Jack Nicklaus-designed luxury greens organized as a non-profit to boost the Benton Harbor economy and revive its largely decrepit downtown. As in many downtowns in the process of gentrification, Benton Harbor is home to more than a few paradoxes, from poverty and a chaotic city government to multi-million dollar developments and the hope of economic revival-by-golf course.

Will it work – will luxury condominiums on the lake and cottages above the golf course have a palpable effect on the 39.9 % of Benton Harbor families who live below the poverty level? I don’t know. If businesses can be enticed back into Benton Harbor, they will probably hire at least some Benton Harbor residents and provide opportunities for their families to live more stable lives, have access to education, etc. Or, perhaps, downtown Benton Harbor will be cut off from the rest of the city, as the microbrewery, hummus-and-grilled vegetables, art gallery demographic buys up lofts west of Main Street, and families continue to live in substandard conditions east of Main (the clientele of the Phoenix, the Livery, and Harbor Shores may point to this). Or (one of the best-case scenarios), a bit of both will happen; money will continue to come to downtown Benton Harbor from other communities and Benton Harbor residents will be benefited both by employment and by an enlivened downtown with improved shopping and eating opportunities, and a cultural integration which has perhaps never existed in Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, Michigan.

Whichever direction development goes, though, the Phoenix is not a bad vantage from which to watch Benton Harbor change. Come in for a coffee and to feel the momentum of something else brewing.

124 Water Street
Benton Harbor, MI 49022

(269) 925-8060


Mon-Fri. 7:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Sat. 8:00 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 5, 2011 11:22 pm

    How are things going a year later? On a related note: Are the public schools any good there? Just saw Waiting for Superman and the first place I thought of was Benton Harbor.

  2. September 19, 2011 5:26 pm

    cLMtjs yes yes yes yes

  3. December 2, 2011 4:52 pm

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