Plan ahead for Western Avenue corridor

Neighbors say it's been neglected for years, but now the city is working to implement a plan for South Bend's Western Avenue corridor.

Many residents who live near Western Avenue say they've watched businesses leave or deteriorate over the years. Now, they say all that's left are car shops, gas stations and convenience stores -- which do little to draw developers or customers to the west side.

"You don't get a welcoming impression," said council member Henry Davis Jr. "As a matter of fact, people look at this area as it's been depreciated, been neglected."

On Monday, two businesses on Western Avenue went before the council with rezoning requests. Azteca Auto Sales got the votes needed to expand, but convenience store RIck's Mart didn't. The store owner wanted to add two gas pumps and more parking, but many residents were opposed, saying it's not the type of development Western Avenue needs. So, the common council voted 6-2 to turn down the $500,000 investment.

It was a tough decision and one Davis Jr. says highlights the need for a plan for Western Avenue.

"When you have a plan, you know where you're going," he said. "You can measure your success, what's happened, and this is what we're trying to get done, and what we're trying to accomplish."

The council passed a resolution late last year requesting such a plan from the city's administration. The office of Community Investment says it's such a large undertaking that a consulting firm will be hired to do the work.

RFPs for the project will be sent out in the next few weeks.

Once a firm is selected, they'll examine the land use along Western Avenue, the potential for private and public investment and what the city can do to foster economic growth.

"Western avenue needs the investment, it needs to turn into a corridor that's inviting to folks coming in from the Chicago area or the west side of the county," Davis Jr. said. "It needs to say and promote to the folks in the area I want to stay here, I want to raise my family here. It needs to say welcome to South Bend."

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