Making room for the Senior PGA Championship

SAINT JOSEPH- Less than a year until the Senior PGA Championship is played in Benton Harbor at the new Harbor Shores Golf Course and the City of Saint Joseph is trying to find ways to capitalize on the tourism dollars that will be coming to the area next May.

The City Planning Commission met Thursday night and unanimously passed a recommendation to take up an ordinance simplifying the short-term rental process.

The draft of the ordinance would likely make it less expensive and eliminate procedures for renters during large events.

The ordinance is being looked at because there just simply aren't enough rooms to accommodate the people coming to visit. “Our estimates are 60 to 80 thousand people (will come to watch) the week of the championship," says Jeffrey Hintz, the 2012 Senior PGA Championship Director.

Hintz has been working out of a store front on W. Main St. in Benton Harbor to prepare for the event. He expects between 10 to 14 thousand people a day will visit the area and might stay elsewhere. He says, “It’s not uncommon for people to travel a half hour, 45 minutes. We could have people on the outskirts of Kalamazoo or South Bend.”

Between Saint Joseph and Benton Harbor there are 1,400 hotel rooms.

The City of Saint Joseph is working to keep people spending money in town. “It’s looking at potential benefits to the city both economically as well as exposing visitors who might return in the future," says John Hodgson, the city's Community Development Director.

Not everyone has been on board with the idea. “Many residents are concerned with having people come in on vacation next to their houses," says Hodgson.

“There was really never an issue,” says Marleen Peterson-Decio outside her home on Lion's Park Drive in Saint Joseph. The house next door used to be a rental home until this year. She understands why neighbors might be worried but doesn't think the golf crowd fits that mold. "I don’t see them being partiers, looking for a wild time, staying up all night.”

The city commission will have two public hearings on the ordinance. The first is scheduled for September 26th. The second hearing is October 10th. The earliest it could take effect is October 20th.

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