When we think of Mishawaka, we often think of the hustle and bustle of Grape Road and Main Street.
But the Mishawaka Riverwalk, as well as everything else that is happening downtown, is what really has Mayor Jeff Rea excited.
“Just fifty years ago the river was our sewer,” says Rea.
But not today.
“Three mile pedestrian loop -- you never have to cross traffic one time,” he points out. “In the future, we'll take it farther to the east down to Merrifield Park.”
And Mayor Rea gives credit where credit is due: to the man who mentored him, Mayor Bob Beutter.
“Mayor Bob was really a visionary, I think, in terms of helping build a community. And we've seen some great successes since ’94, and it’s been neat for me to have a chance to sort of continue some of those and see these things from the infancy to the point where actually construction is starting to happen.”
But there's rarely development without controversy.
A perfect example is the new St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Mishawaka, which will bring with it over 1,000 jobs from its current home in South Bend.
“We’ve never offered a single incentive, for example, for somebody to cross the city limits. Sometimes it’s pure availability of land,” he explains.
How can South Bend and Mishawaka work better together?
“I think there is public perception that we don't sometimes, but we really do,” he says. “For example, right now we’re partners on a project at Ironwood, at IUSB, where they’re building their new housing project. The two cities have come together because it affects both of us.”
Another town affected by what happens in Mishawaka is Granger, like the annexed Heritage Square and development at State Road 23 and Capital.
“It's very cost prohibitive for us to go into residential areas,” he explains. “There should be no fear, and I can't imagine any scenario where Mishawaka would ever go in to and annex Granger.”
He admits that having Granger to the north has been a boon to Mishawaka.
“I think that the school corporation, the Penn system, is probably the top system in our area, and it's been a tool that's really helped us attract folks.”
Folks he hopes to continue to attract to downtown development. And what about the controversy of selling a parcel of land for a dollar?
“We’ve tried to do things to encourage development to happen down there. You do that in a subdivision too – you see developers do that all the time -- where the first piece of land is the cheapest and the last piece of land is probably the most expensive,” Rea explains. “So we did that on the first piece of land. Nobody reported on the second piece of land that didn't sell for a dollar, nobody reported on the third piece of land that didn't sell for a dollar.”
He says developers are taking a risk that he believes will pay off.
“The Ironworks Development will bring 300 million dollars of investment into our downtown area. It's probably been 30 years since we saw significant residential investment downtown, since we saw significant commercial development, so really a chance to reshape the center city and give it a real identity.”
Growing by leaps and bounds.
“Last year we had our largest construction year ever in history. This year will triple that number; we already have blown away our record.”
And he is still working to keep that small town feel.
“I think people still feel like they know each other,” he says. “We still want to be your hometown.”