'Better Block' project coming to Western Avenue

A quick drive down Western Avenue reveals that there is need for revitalization on one of South Bend’s main corridors. Now, a group is stepping up to the challenge.

The group’s plan is to put the neighborhood’s best foot forward in order to encourage economic growth. Residents and Western Avenue business owners attended a special meeting and walk Tuesday night to figure out how to create a welcoming space along the thoroughfare. The idea is to create a “Better Block.”

The Better Block idea has bloomed in cities across the country. The concept is to bring together residents, with little funding, to transform a block and show the potential it has for development.

At Tuesday’s meeting, residents shared ideas like creating a pop-up sidewalk café, inviting artists to display their art along Western Avenue and even provide live music entertainment. The catch is that these improvements will only be temporary – taking place on an October weekend.

Rosita’s ice cream shop was one of the stops along the street tour. Juan Cervera’s family owns the ice cream. Cervera said he wants to see Western Avenue become more of a destination for Michiana residents.

“A big plaza would be nice,” he said. “Get people to stop by and enjoy nice weather. Have activities going on.”

He shared his idea with others on the street tour. One problem became obvious as the group walked along Western. Some folks had to walk along the street because the sidewalks are too narrow to accommodate several pedestrians.

There are plans in the works to revitalize the West Side corridors, including Western Avenue. But, the Better Blocks project is focused on immediate action among residents.

“It’s something we've been waiting for,” said Juan Hernandez, president of the Latin American Chamber of Commerce. “Bring the culture back out. Bring dynamic economic opportunity.”

The Better Block area will provide a glimpse at what ‘could be’ along the corridor.

“We have to create an exciting feeling in people so that they want to come out here,” said Sam Centellas, executive director at La Casa de Amistad, Inc.

Along the tour route, the group found a spot for the Better Block event. It happens to be right across the street from Rosita’s. The empty lot will be changed to illustrate the area’s potential, in just a few months’ time.

“We have to change with the time,” said Dave Thomas, St. Joseph County commissioner. “We have to be a modern city for modern people.”

Now, the group must hit the ground running when it comes to planning. They discussed getting special event permits and reaching out to local companies to get them involved.

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