EXCLUSIVE: Mayor Pete Buttigieg discusses economic development in South Bend

When Pete Buttigieg was sworn in back in January, he took the highest office in a city seeking change. Since then he’s faced several controversial issues and taken a lot of criticism.

“It's definitely even more complex and challenging than I could have imagined. It's no less rewarding than I had hoped,” said Buttigieg. “It's the best job in the world. It's everything I expected and more, I mean it's got its challenges, the hours are long, but we have phenomenal team and we have a phenomenal city.

Buttigieg wants to build on the city’s technology base to help curb unemployment and bring 21st century jobs to South Bend.

“We're not where we want to be right now. The country isn't and this city isn't. It's not going to turn around overnight, but we're seeing positive steps. We've seen the Kroc Center open up, we also saw a VA clinic open up that's bringing over 100 jobs to downtown to an area that was almost dead for a long time. We see very promising signs in the former Studebaker building, just south of Coveleski Stadium, a chance to really be a globally respected innovator in terms of what we deal with energy and it's one of the things that's most exciting about South Bend,” said Buttigieg.

In the past three years, South Bend has become a connection point for fiber optic lines that cross the country. The old Union Station building is now a hub of technology, but Buttigieg wants to take it further.

We're really going to double down on the advantage that we have on computer intensive industries. The idea is that we have so much fiber optic cable running through the city of South Bend that we can be a key hub on the internet, where it really gets exciting is if we can then use smarter energy management to change the economics of heating buildings based on some of the heat that's coming off the computers. It's what the 21st century is all about. Using our resources better, making sure that we're plugging into the internet economy,” said Buttigieg.

South Bend, however, is still plagued with problems from the 20th century. An estimated 1,500 homes are abandoned or vacant and the tallest building, Chase Tower, is in delinquency and is getting closer to total vacancy and disrepair.

“I'm running out of patience with Huntington Bank, which really controls the opportunity to improve Chase Tower until it's sold. I'm hoping that they will agree on a sale price with one of the prospective bidders, but also that they won't wait for a sale to make some investments and keep that building running well. It’s an important building, it's right in the middle of downtown and so we need it to be in good hands and we need it to be well run,” said Buttigieg.

In December and January the Common Council attempted to work out a deal with a prospective buyer, but it eventually fell through. The deal would have spent millions to fix up the ailing building. Buttigieg said he doesn’t want as much taxpayer money used on any future deals, but is willing to be active in any potential deals.
“I'm willing for the city to have some involvement, but we what we were being asked to do in December and January is just too much. The city cannot carry this building on its back and the city is not going to get in the business of bailing out a bank that made bad loan,” said Buttigieg.

The mayor still has more than three years left in his term and pledges to work towards bringing government closer to people through his Mayor’s Night Out sessions.

“It's the best job in the world. It's everything I expected and more, I mean it's got its challenges, the hours are long, but we have phenomenal team and we have a phenomenal city. People are ready to believe in our city again and people are ready to come together around the shared future of the city and that just propels me to do this job,” said Buttigieg.

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