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Silver Beach is an Entertainment Destination

By Tony McGhee

Location: St. Joseph
Population: 8,365


st jo

At a time when condominiums were popping up all along Lake Michigan, the city of St. Joseph and its resident stakeholders realized the necessity of developing 6.6 acres of unused property between Silver Beach and the business district on the bluff above it. The goals were to preserve views of the lake from the bluff, increase tourism and revenue, and enhance the lives of community members. When the city received an unprecedented gift of the property from Whirlpool and local philanthropists, it was agreed that the land would be placed in public trust with the agreement that it would be developed in the best interests of all concerned. A 25-member committee composed of representatives from local government, economic development, local non-profits, business owners, and donors agreed that the development should be innovative yet maintain a sense of history from the time when the property was an amusement park.

Designed to be a Destination
The Silver Beach Center—one of the newest, year-round entertainment venues in southwestern Michigan—has garnered a great deal of attention. What once was underutilized property near St. Joseph, Michigan’s lakeshore is now a world-class, multi-use recreational venue attracting visitors from throughout the region and nation. The project was designed to be a destination for people of all ages. Families experience a piece of Silver Beach’s history by riding the large wooden carousel, science is disguised as playtime for Curious Kids' Museum Annex visitors, and party-goers enjoy the ambiance of the Shadowland Ballroom.

Stroll the boardwalk to the Silver Beach Carousel house. As soon as you enter you’ll feel a rush of happiness. Pick your favorite figure or chariot and take a spin…then pick another and another. Make silly faces in the photo booth. Then explore the free Silver Beach Amusement Park Museum. This wonder-filled place graced the shores of Lake Michigan from 1891-1971. It meant something special to every one of its millions of patrons through the years. Walk past the beautifully carved carousel animals and look up into Michigan’s tallest kaleidoscope and watch the beautiful changing patterns.

The facility also includes the Curious Kids’ Discovery Zone by Curious Kids’ Museum. Kids, ages 2 to 100, will have a blast for an hour or two interacting with 15 water activities, a climbing wall, virtual reality fun, and traveling hands-on educational exhibits. The warmer months invite visitors to cool off in the 150-foot diameter, interactive fountain with a colorful, compass-themed surface known as the Whirlpool Compass Fountain. From the fountain, it is a short walk to Silver Beach, named one of the top ten family beaches in the U.S. by Parents Magazine. Stroll the pier to our historic lighthouse, go fishing or watch an angler reel in a big jo

Sustainable Design Elements
Many “green” items were included in the plans to provide sustainability, reduce operational costs, and preserve the environment. The park was constructed on a site where development was complicated by environmental contamination, including an area that supported three former warehouses. The new development eliminates pressure on undeveloped land and has an overall footprint that is significantly less than that of the three former industrial buildings. Some of the sustainable features included a 5,700 square foot living “green roof” and native landscaping, as well as the first stormwater quality unit in the city of Saint Joseph, which traps debris and contaminates from runoff. The majority of landscape on the site is pedestrian-oriented and includes an old fashioned boardwalk. Bicycle racks are readily accessible, encouraging walking and biking. The project is in close proximity to the beach and the Amtrak station and within walking distance of the business district at the top of the bluff.

Economic Impact
As word has spread regarding the park, tourism has increased significantly, bringing much needed income for area hotels and restaurants. Tourists are no longer coming to the city just to visit Silver Beach, but for the enjoyment of all activities available to them. With the loss of manufacturing jobs in the area, tourism has become a major source of income for full-time residents. The business owners in historic downtown St. Joseph have seen a significant increase in sales since the opening of the park; it serves as a connection between the beach and downtown. In a recent survey, merchants reported a 10-30 percent increase in sales compared to the summer before the park opened. St. Joseph Today, the downtown development organization, reported a 110 percent increase in visitors to their center last summer, with downtown merchants reporting a 35-50 percent increase in out-of-town visitors.

“Our team poured so much passion and creativity into this project,” said Abonmarche President Chris Cook. “Our holistic philosophy inspired us to create a design that not only blends with the natural environment, but most importantly, enhances the quality of life for local residents and visitors to our beautiful lakeshore. We’re very honored to have been a part of it.”

City officials are pleased with the Center’s ability to attract people downtown. “This project has been a great economic development tool for us,” stated St. Joseph City Manager Frank Walsh. “Thousands of people from throughout the region flocked to the area below the bluff after the project was completed. That’s a great thing for area stores and restaurants.” The city is the owner of the facility, providing a long-term lease to the Silver Beach/
Shadowland entities. The project could not have been realized if not for a unique public/private partnership.

Tony McGhee is business development director for Abonmarche. You may reach him at 269-927-2295 or



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