ST. JOSEPH — A proposal for improvements along the St. Joseph waterfront received the enthusiastic approval of city commissioners Monday.

Cornerstone Alliance President Rob Cleveland announced that Berrien County had been approved for a $132,500 Department of Natural Resources Waterways grant to construct harbor transportation facilities at four locations – at the Inn at Harbor Shores; in St. Joseph on the north side of the St. Joseph River, across from the Upton Arboretum; on county property below the courthouse; and at Cornerstone’s boat launch on Riverview Drive in Benton Harbor.

Cornerstone will be providing $150,000 in matching funds for the project, Cleveland said.

Mayor Mike Garey praised the proposal and said it was a good example of cooperation among partners.

Cleveland and Berrien County Community Development Director Dan Fette reported to the Board of Commissioners last week about the project, and commissioners will be voting Thursday on whether to accept the grant.

St. Joseph commissioners approved applying for the grant earlier this year.

The site at the Inn at Harbor Shores dock would serve as a “home port” for the project that could allow for water-based businesses, Cleveland said. A bicycle rack and new sidewalks are to be added.

The location on the north side of the river, near the former location of a water tower, would also have bike racks, a gravel path, and a dock in the future, according to Cleveland. Parking space is available. This would provide access to downtown St. Joseph and Silver Beach via watercraft, planners said.

At the county-owned property, east of the Blossomland bridge, the St. Joseph Improvement Association and the Krasl Art Center are both interested in investing in the site and connecting it to the Upton Arboretum.

This landing site “would be visible from the entire harbor” and provides a welcome to visitors to St. Joseph, Cleveland said. “A lot of events begin and end there, and this will give them a destination.”

Improvements at the Riverview Drive location would include a double kayak launch, sidewalks and bike racks and an optional boardwalk extension for a water taxi. This would be the only handicap-accessible kayak launch on the lower St. Joseph River basin.

The planners are asking that St. Joseph appoint a staff member to work on the design.

Commissioner Laura Goos suggested that a member of the Parks Board be included, and that designers look at the city’s parks master plan.

Goos said she liked the idea of installing art in the area.

Cleveland said his office will be working with the St. Joseph Improvement Association to create an app to direct visitors to various destinations and businesses.

Her emphasized that these will not be boat launches, but will provide a place where boats can be tied up. There are no plans for kayak rental businesses, he added.

The partners, including Abonmarche Consultants, will work on the final site plan and apply for state and local permits, and construction documents will be submitted to the DNR for their approval.

Construction is expected to begin in the spring, with the facilities available by summer.

Finance director

In other business, Goos said that a short list of candidates for the city’s finance director position had been arrived at, and they hope to make a decision early next month.

“It’s a critical role,” Goos said.

Goos said the search committee expects to meet this week after City Manager John Hodgson returns from vacation to review the applicants. They have received 16 applications, and hope to narrow the field to no more than three finalists, she said.

One of the applicants is former finance director and clerk Deb Koroch, who retired in 2016 to Florida but has returned to St. Joseph and has been assisting the office on an interim basis. Koroch was first hired by the city in 2000. Sara McCallum took over from Koroch, then left the job this spring.

The city combined the finance director and clerk’s positions in 2008 as a cost-saving measure. Commissioners this year decided to separate the jobs, with the next clerk taking on some of the responsibilities formerly handled by the communications and marketing director.

Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak