Elkhart is working hard to support its main assets.
SoMa is a community-driven initiative that started in January 2012 with the goal of creating awareness of the downtown’s residential, dining and entertainment options.
Friday morning SoMa hosted a press conference at the Lerner Theater to highlight the private investment and accomplishments of the initiative. In October, Mayor Dick Moore and the city council agreed to fund three SoMa positions so the initiative can work full time of attracting investment.
Executive Director of Downtown Elkhart, Inc., Dan Boecher, said having government backing will allow SoMa to cultivate new private investment on a “40 hour a week basis.”
The city’s chamber of commerce is highly supportive of SoMa’s initiatives—many go hand-in-hand with what the chamber has been trying to do for years.
“You can put public money into things all you want, but it’s when the private sector steps up, and we’re having success,” said chamber president Kyle Hannon. Hannon and Boecher agree that the three aspects of Soma, live, work and play, must all happen simultaneously, which means having appealing housing, being business friendly and providing entertainment.
Within the last 10 years, 80 new apartments were listed along Main St. alone. Of those properties, topping out at around $1500 per month in rent, are the highest rentals available anywhere in the county.
In 2012, around 50 percent of storefronts were vacant along the 500 block of Main St. Two years later and the vacancy rate dropped to 22 percent, thanks to the absorption of more than 32,000 square feet of vacant space by five local businesses.
New restaurants will soon open up, continuing to boost the city’s dining options. Cubby Bear Pizza is assuming the space formerly known as Mad Anthony’s at 526 S. Main St. An unnamed restaurant, under the same ownership as South Bend fine dining establishment, Café Navarre, also plans to open up shop downtown.
For those who already live here, more places to eat is a bonus. But for those who may want to visit, having more options is an attractive quality.
Paul Thomas, 91, has seen it all. For 65 years he’s been along Main St., but recently he’s heard fewer people saying “I never come downtown.” Thomas said he was “thrilled to death” to hear Navarre’s owner, Kurt Janowsky, plans on opening a fine dining restaurant on Main St., based on the applause at the press conference, so is everyone else.
SoMa hopes to continue marketing and making Elkhart more attractive. Dave Smith, general manager of the Lerner Theater said SoMa is successfully orchestrating activity and investment simultaneously.
The focus will continue to be on growing and expanding current events, creating fun new events and giving the downtown community a common place to share ideas and work towards a brighter tomorrow.