"Marketing makeover" for South Bend neighborhoods

Some people in South Bend are quickly finding out what a residential marketing specialist does.

The job was added to the city payroll last fall, and filled in October.

Since then, work has taken place on several fronts to try and strengthen South Bend neighborhoods.

The specialist is working with residents to develop marketing plans in five separate neighborhoods: River Park, West Washington, Chapin Park, Near Northwest, and Edgewater.

The program is many things to many people, but the main goal is to get more people to live in the city limits.

To some extent, the program grew out of concerns over the problem with vacant and abandoned houses.

In some neighborhoods, the city has had little choice but to send in demolition crews to pick up the pieces.

In other neighborhoods--where vacant homes are more of a threat than a reality--the city is sending in its residential marketing specialist Sue Solmos.

On one recent Saturday, Solmos went door to door in search of volunteers in the Edgewater Neighborhood. “We specifically need help in the beginning on the promotions committee to help get the website up and running,” Solmos said to one homeowner.

Edgewater resident Maria Rearick was quick to volunteer. “We feel like it is the way we’re going to bring more families into the neighborhood, and also kind of rejuvenate the neighborhood. I think it’s important because it’s the only way all of our neighborhoods are going to stay alive.”

The serious sentiments are shared by some in the River Park neighborhood. There, neighbors recently gathered in the kitchen of one homeowner to cook up a new neighborhood logo.

“I think it’s just kind of raises an awareness of what River Park really is,” said Mike Heffner, with the River Park Neighborhood Association. “I think there’s a lot of perceptions out there that aren’t necessarily positive.”

On the bright side, River Park has a lot of family friendly attractions including an annual parade, the Potawatomi Zoo, a greenhouse, the St. Joseph River, and the city’s only public pool.

On the not-so-bright side, “I think we’re definitely at a pivotal point,” said River Park resident Willow Wetherall. “We have a very high percentage of homes that are now being rented, so one of our goals is to increase home ownership.”

While that’s easier said than done, residents are doing what they can to try and make it happen. While the city will provide guidance to develop a marketing plan, the city won’t provide funding.

“We’re not telling a neighborhood what they are,” said Mayor Stephen Luecke, (D) South Bend. “They’re expressing what they are, and that's what makes it real because it is heartfelt. It’s people who have chosen to live in these neighborhoods, for so many different reasons telling their own stories, and that will be appealing to other families as they're looking for places to locate.”

The city’s investment in the program amounts to paying the $55,000 salary of the marketing specialist.

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