Empty Mercy Hospital lot may be new home for apartments and duplexes in Benton Harbor

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - The empty lot at the corner of Empire Avenue and Pipestone Street may not look like much, but there used to be a hospital there.

Built in the early 1900s, Mercy Hospital was one of the main primary care centers in Benton Harbor, and even had the first 24-hour emergency room.

Many residents in town began their lives in the delivery rooms there.

But the hospital was vacated in 2011, and torn down five years later.

Now, it's just an empty, overgrown lot, and folks are sad - some even angry - to see it stay that way for so long.

However, that may no longer be the case.

On Monday, representatives from Habitat for Humanity pitched a brand-new proposal to build up on the old Mercy Hospital site.

"It'll transform this entire area," said Mayor Marcus Muhammad.

The plan called for 19 duplexes and a mixed-use commercial building with apartments to provide a total of 77 different spaces for families to live in the city.

"We need more housing in the city of Benton Harbor," said 1st Ward Commissioner Sharon Henderson. "We have people living in other communities because they can't find housing where they want to live."

But the development won't come cheap: the current estimate is around $32 million.

Mayor Muhammad said that despite the expense, it's a crucial development for the city's future.

"Not only will this bring jobs and better housing, but it will also be an avenue for small businesses to surround this type of development in order to breathe life back into this third ward," he said.

Habitat for Humanity has applied for Missing Middle grants to fund the project, which they said they could receive within the month.

And once funding is secured, the site plan will have to be approved by the city commission, and they could possibly start building by the end of this summer or early fall.

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