Hundreds of Benton Harbor residents are expected Saturday for a march on the Senior PGA Championship tournament at the controversial Harbor Shores golf course, demanding the PGA donate 25 percent of tournament profits to the city and publicly acknowledge the new golf course’s “theft of public parkland for private profit.”
They’ll dress in black for a “death march” – symbolizing “the death of democracy in Benton Harbor,” according to local civil rights leader Rev. Edward Pinkney – and fly hundreds of kites bearing the words, “Occupy the PGA.”
The march from City Hall, 200 Wall Street, to Jean Klock Park Beach starts at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 26. Benton Harbor is about 100 miles from Chicago on Lake Michigan.
Three holes of the golf course were built on 23 acres of the city’s lakefront park by a nonprofit development company backed by Whirlpool, which has its corporate headquarters in Benton Harbor. Dunes were excavated and hundreds of trees were removed to assure golfers a view of the lake.
Ultimately it’s supposed to be the centerpiece of a $500 million development with condos and high-end retail.
Major manufacturing operations by Whirlpool – and thousands of jobs — were moved overseas starting in the 1980s. Today Benton Harbor, which is 92 percent African American, is one of Michigan’s poorest cities.
Critics say Whirlpool wants to drive out blacks and convert Benton Harber to a resort town for wealthy weekenders.
City commissioners rescinded approval for the project in 2010. But that year Benton Harbor became the first city in Michigan to have local governance suspended by an emergency manager appointed under a new law.
“The city is $5 million in the red,” Pinkney said. “Whirlpool doesn’t pay any taxes, Harbor Shores doesn’t pay any taxes” – both the corporation and the development got longterm tax-abatement deals in recent years – “and the PGA is getting all the benefits and is not going to pay any taxes.”
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