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Historic building in Benton Harbor expected to be redeveloped

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – There could soon be a new place to live and shop in downtown Benton Harbor.

Cornerstone Alliance recently secured a tentative commitment from Cressy Commercial Real Estate to redevelop an iconic building in the downtown area.

The building, located at 126 Pipestone Ave., has been part of the downtown landscape for more than 100 years. For the past few years it has sat empty, but local leaders say that will soon change.

Cressy wants to build 14 apartment units on the top level and two commercial spaces on the bottom level of the building. The project will cost $2-3 million dollars.

“It’s going to bring people downtown,” said said Cornerstone Alliance Chief Operating Officer Greg Vaughn. “A downtown is the front door odd a community and so the more activities we can help generate that here we think it’s going  to be best for the community.”

Cornerstone bought the building in 2017 with the intent of redeveloping the space. However Cornerstone says that task became difficult.

Vaughn said no developer wants to take on such a massive project. The building needs to be gutted and rebuilt from the inside out.

“It’s a sizeable project,” said Vaughn. “The building basically needs to be totally gutted and rebuilt from the inside out.”

Vaughn hopes this spurs other redevelopment.

“We initially worked with the arts district and kinds of brought that alive and now we want to expand that development into the downtown area and really start working on a number of buildings that are sitting downtown and need some attention,” said Vaughn.

Jillian Ortega’s business sits just feet away from the building. She said she is excited for the plans and called it the next step in Benton Harbor’s revitalization.

“We are definitely in need of more housing in this area that are not just lofty types, but also apartments for young professionals in the area,” said Ortega. “The retail spots I’m excited for. I’m excited to see what other types of stores would have in this area.”

The agreement is contingent upon support from the City of Benton Harbor and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Vaughn said MEDC is reviewing the project but all signs point to MEDC signing off on it.

Cornerstone and Cressy hope to gain the city’s support at the city commission’s meeting on March 18.

The city would need to designate the area and building as an Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act, or an OPRA district.

The designation would freeze the tax rate for the building over the next 10-12 years. Vaugh said it would make redevelopment more affordable for Cressy. Vaughn didn’t know what the current tax rate was for the building.

If approved, construction could begin as early as June 2019.

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