Next phase of River District plan ready


ELKHART — Details about the final phase of Elkhart’s River District Revitalization are ready for public review.

Mayor Tim Neese is inviting the community to take part in an exclusive presentation of the city’s final River District Revitalization Plan at the Lerner Theatre at 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 26.

The presentation will outline projects aimed at creating a more walkable, residential downtown destination, according to the press release from the city announcing the presentation.

The River District area consists of a 105-acre peninsula bounded by the St. Joseph River, Elkhart River and the railroad tracks east of Prairie Street and Johnson Street. Efforts to revitalize this area are part of the City’s overall economic development strategy to attract new residents. Currently, the number of job openings in the City outnumber the available workers. This unique dilemma has prompted city officials to think outside the box and make strategic financial investments in a bold vision for the future.

“Economic development is no longer just about attracting business; it is about attracting people,” Neese said. “As seniors and millennials gravitate towards urban, mixeduse communities where they can be close to shops, restaurants and other amenities, the successful communities of the future will be successful because they create a community where people want to call home.”

Joining Neese are presenters Jeff Speck and Casey Steinbacher.

Speck is a city planner and urban designer who, through writing, lectures, and built work, advocates internationally for more walkable cities. As Director of Design at the National Endowment for the Arts from 2003 through 2007, he oversaw the Mayors’ Institute on City Design and created the Governors’ Institute on Community Design, a federal program that helps state governors fight suburban sprawl. Prior to joining the Endowment, Speck spent 10 years as Director of Town Planning at Duany Plater-Zyberk and Co., a leading practitioner of the New Urbanism, where he led or managed more than 40 of the firm’s projects. He is the co-author of Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream as well as The Smart Growth Manual. His recent book, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time – which the Christian Science Monitor called “timely and important, a delightful, insightful, irreverent work” – was the best-selling planning/design title of 2013 – 2015. Steinbacher, Founder of Casey’s Company, is widelyrecognized as a national expert in urban innovation strategies or as she likes to say ... “Teaching the World Why Coolness Matters” ... Her company identifies and creates NEXT opportunities for communities and organizations,with a unique emphasis on place based talentrecruitment. She is credited with authoring the strategy that targeted entrepreneurs and millennials as key components for the place

based renaissance of downtown Durham, North Carolina that CNN just named the start up capital of the south. She boasts an eclectic list of clients and projects.

Prior to founding her own company, Casey served as President and CEO of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce from 2007 until 2015. Under her direction, the Durham Chamber received national and international acclaim for its leadership in economic and entrepreneurial development, winning the award for the Best Innovative Economic Development Project at the World Chambers Congress in Doha, Qatar, in 2013. Durham experienced over $5 billion in announced new investment that created more than 20,000 jobs during her tenure, including the birth and rapid growth of an entrepreneurial eco-system that is now considered one of the most vibrant in the South.

The final plan details, which will be unveiled on April 26, are the product of over two years of planning and collaboration. Multiple public presentations have been held to generate awareness and community feedback.

“The City has worked with professionals from across the country, including Jeff Speck, to develop a plan that we believe will take Elkhart forward,” said City of Elkhart Communications Director Courtney Bearsch. “What the public will see on Thursday is the culmination of all of this feedback and expertise put into one final master plan.

The East Jackson Boulevard streetscape is part of the River District Plan, Bearsch confirmed. “The River District plan is about creating a walkable urban environment, so the new streetscape will be more pedestrian-friendly and will include additional lighting and signals as well as landscaping,” she said.

“Really we won’t have anything like this in the region,” said David Weaver, Chair of the River District Implementation Team (RDIT), said in an exclusive interview with the Elkhart Truth earlier this year. “We see this as a regional destination.”

Redevelopment of this area includes the ongoing construction of the Elkhart Health Fitness Aquatics and Community Center and construction of Stonewater at the Riverwalk, a residential development headed by developer Flaherty and Collins.

Overall, the plan is to add roughly 1,000 new homes to downtown Elkhart, which include townhomes and apartments, the result of a market analysis that found some 28,000 individuals choose to work in Elkhart each day but do not call the city home, as reported previously in the Elkhart Truth.

Shelley Moore