Recently, an organization called the Below the Bluff Neighborhood Association was formed. I, myself, a below the bluff neighbor working at the Silver Beach Center/Shadowland on Silver Beach, was unaware of this group. Their main focus at this time seems to relate to the activities, visitors, and events that take place at our beautiful beach-front area in St. Joseph.
A recent letter by Todd Schultz that you published a few days ago states with great accuracy the obvious results of owning a house beside a public beach and public park. One has to expect that living or working near such a desirable area would bring crowds of visitors, some good, some bad. Nevertheless, seeing that it is not a private area, it will bring visitors.
Since this was addressed so well, I would like to bring another perspective into the conversation. I have the dual role of executive director of the Silver Beach Center as well as the current chairperson of St. Joseph Today. I have been working below the bluff since 2009, right before the opening of the Silver Beach Center, and have been able to witness the vision for enhancements below the bluff of some of our most insightful and generous city leaders, Whirlpool Corp., LECO and influential citizens of our community, come to life.
It is my understanding that when our visionaries contemplated enhancing our beautiful beach-front area, the dream was to create a destination to draw people not only to downtown St. Joseph, but also below the bluff. Part of this vision created the Silver Beach Center, which houses a world-class event venue that proudly displays over five years of prestigious awards, a beautiful hand-carved carousel with 48 figures and two chariots, and a children’s museum with traveling exhibits, interactive water tables and numerous other exhibits. The vision also created a splash pad at the Whirlpool Centennial Park, which brings great joy to all who visit.
This area was created to be enjoyed by our community and visitors alike. Our visionaries wanted to create a “wow” factor and they have succeeded. There is a green space that was intentionally left open and spacious to allow for events, kite flying, running, playing and just somewhere to eat a picnic. The foresight of these community leaders has created a destination known worldwide. What’s not to love?
The complaints that were voiced by the Below the Bluff Neighborhood Association at a recent City Commission meeting can all be addressed and worked on. Some of the complaints center around the events that take place below the bluff. It is important to note that one of the focuses of St. Joe Today is to bring visitors to our downtown area. Attending an event at one of the most desirable locations in the area is a huge draw for visitors. For example, the BBQ, Blues, and Bluegrass event has been an extremely successful event that draws over 2,000 visitors, and one could argue its success hinges on its current great location. Moving this event to another area would jeopardize its success.
Some city commissioners have spoken that they are open to try to move this and possibly the other very few events (Maker’s Faire and the movies in the park) that the city has allowed to take place in the green space, to another location. This is unfortunate and completely against what the open area was designed for. This is why we have a beautiful open space, to utilize and bring people to our community. This BBQ event alone affords St. Joe Today the opportunity to bring off-season events that continue to bring visitors to our town year-round.
Visitors mean additional money to our merchants and to our community. That is the goal, correct? A thriving, vibrant city is what most everyone who lives here wants. There are many concessions that can be made to the complaints from the Below the Bluff Neighborhood Association. But, in my opinion, it seems that the issues are not so much the events themselves, but that there are events below the bluff. There has already been a limit put on events that are allowed to take place below the bluff, and St. Joe Today is already working on changes for next year, based on the comments of the Below the Bluff Neighborhood Association.
There will never be a scenario in which everyone will be happy. The betterment of many should outweigh the complaints of a few.
Lastly, I think it is important to note that even if the few events that are currently allowed below the bluff were taken away, there will still be visitors (good and bad) and congestion below the bluff. There will still be family attractions below the bluff. There will still be a beautiful event space and there will still be our spectacular beach. We are a top tourist destination, which should be viewed as an honor, not a disgrace or a hassle. The better our community does, the better our community can be.
Nicole Heugel is executive director of the Silver Beach Center and Shadowland on Silver Beach.