Downtown Elkhart has struggled to consistently draw people to its shops and restaurants for years. As part of its next phase of marketing, city officials launched an expansive advertising campaign to re-brand a mile-long stretch of South Main Street as the “Gateway Mile.”
David Smith, manager of the Lerner Theater described the re-branding as a highlighting the “beating hearts” that are the city businesses.
“[The Gateway Mile] serves as a true support to all those beating hearts. What we can do now is have a common voice” Smith added.
Elkhart began evaluating how it was perceived in 2011. That’s when Mayor Dick Moore convened SoMa—Supporting our Main assets—a community planning initiative that looked at possible “next steps” for the 500 through 700 blocks of South Main Street. SoMa focuses on housing, commercial service needs of neighborhood residents, arts and entertainment and improving green space.
The creation of Downtown Elkhart Inc., and the introduction of a new executive director, Dan Boecher, in 2013 has hastened the rate of progress.
Members of SoMa, city leaders and Boecher held a press conference Friday announcing the formal launch of the “Gateway Mile” as well as the establishment of a new loan program created by DEI with the assistance of local banks.
The loan pool comes in around $1.6 million from banks like First Source, INOVA Federal Credit Union, INterra Credit Union, Lake City Bank, TCU and Old National Bank. According to Boecher, the loan program will be available for tenants and property owners downtown that want to make improvements to their building and building’s façade.
Business are excited about the prospect of more businesses locating along South Main, some say they’ve already seen an improvement.
“I’ve been here for two years by myself and now all of a sudden we have people coming around and that’s a great thing” said Eileen Welch, owner of Faces of Art.
For the first time Welch said she has seen people starting to get excited about the downtown and the new businesses that have opened up.
Cubby Bear Pizza, owned by brothers Steve and Frank Hill, opened up eight days ago. The pair said they saw a void in terms of family-oriented restaurants downtown and designed their restaurant around that concept.
Across South Main St. from Cubby Bear Pizza sits an empty storefront—the former Fly Traps. However it won’t stay empty for long. Owner of notable Michiana restaurant, Kurt Janowsky, plans on opening up a small, fine dining restaurant in the former Fly Traps building.
The restaurant, Artisan, will likely open in July and feature tasting menus and other “luxury” food items.
SoMa and DEI hope that more restaurants and shops see the Gateway Mile campaign and decide to relocate downtown.