Cornerstone, Chandler partner to renew historic building in BH

Cornerstone Alliance recently bought the middle segment of the former Farmers and Merchants Bank with the intent of partnering with NBA star Wilson Chandler to restore the building’s exterior.

BENTON HARBOR — Cornerstone Alliance announced a partnership Thursday with NBA player Wilson Chandler to renovate the facade of the historic Farmers and Merchants Bank building in Benton Harbor.

Located at 92 W. Main St., the Farmers and Merchants Bank first opened in 1888. The large building contains three segments, with the eastern portion at 90 W. Main St. owned by Chandler.

Cornerstone Alliance bought the middle segment in February with the intent of partnering with Chandler to restore the building’s exterior. The terra cotta facade restoration will take place in multiple phases over the next 90-120 days.

“That building is an iconic structure,” Cornerstone Alliance President Rob Cleveland told The Herald-Palladium. “We want to work with private developers to save as many of these buildings as we can. We’re confident that investing in the facade will lead to more businesses in Benton Harbor. It’s another huge step forward.”

Cleveland said the building can be redeveloped with an open floor plan and has two distinct bank vaults near the rear of the ground floor.

Cornerstone Alliance will next issue a request for proposal in the near future to find a qualified developer interested in redeveloping the interior of the 92 W. Main St. section of the building.

The economic development agency closed on the building in February after taking a six-month option in October.

However, Cornerstone has considered the restoration project for the past 18 months.

Cleveland said there have been a number of entrepreneurs and business owners who’ve taken a tour of the building. He said it was difficult for them to get past the idea of paying thousands of dollars to fix the facade.

“It’s daunting if you’re going to have to invest on the inside, let alone the facade,” Cleveland said. “We are not doing some monumental shift. Our intent is to restore the facade to its original look.”

The collaboration on the project between Cornerstone and Chandler, a Benton Harbor native, is expected to save both parties thousands of dollars.

Between Chandler and Cornerstone, Cleveland said they are expected to spend $400,000 to $500,000 on repairing the building’s facade. Cleveland said the partnership saves money by having workers and contractors working on the same parts of the facade at the same time.

“Having grown up in Benton Harbor, I know the importance of having a strong downtown,” Chandler said in a news release. “We’re going to renovate the facade and make this building one that we can all be proud of. There are great opportunities in Benton Harbor and this is the first of many things that will bring more jobs to the city.”

The partnership came to fruition after Cornerstone representatives met with Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad and City Manager Darwin Watson.

During the meeting, Muhammad mentioned that the NBA journeyman, now of the Los Angeles Clippers, owns the adjacent building and connected them to see if the interest was mutual.

“Wilson Chandler believes in Benton Harbor. His willingness to invest in the city’s future, and to partner with Cornerstone Alliance to sustain a Benton Harbor landmark, deserves our praise,” Muhammad said in the release. “... The city is willing to work with all developers interested in investing their capital in our city and I encourage anyone with a business idea to reach out to us.” 

While work is expected to begin shortly, Cleveland said they will revamp their recruitment efforts with the request for proposal in the coming weeks.

Cleveland said they are pushing for a private developer.

“We’ve had all different kinds of businesses show interest,” he said. “But the goal is to have people come in and tell us what they think the building could be. Hopefully, we’ll find someone interested in coming in to invest and create new jobs.”

Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski