Where will new South Bend residents come from?

The City of South Bend is out to increase its population by marketing its neighborhoods.

If the plan is to succeed, those new residents will have to come from somewhere—but where?

There are several possibilities.

It was “fate” that brought the Kent family to South Bend’s River Park neighborhood. “The highway went right through our living room, so we thought it was probably time to move,” said Katherine Kent.

Somebody else’s decision to realign U.S. 31 between South Bend and Plymouth uprooted the Kent’s from their rural home south of South Bend. The family was one of the first to be relocated due to the highway project.

But it was their decision—and theirs alone—to move into the city.

“I think it worked out perfectly for us because you know we’ve lived in the country and you know you raise your kids and now it’s time to come back and be part of some of the activities that are going on around here,” said Katherine Kent.

While “fate” brought the family to River Park, the Kent’s aren’t willing to let fate determine what happens to their new neighborhood.

On one recent night, the family opened its home to neighbors—as the group planned and plotted to bring new blood into the neighborhood.

“Nobody was really working to attract people coming into the region to look at South Bend instead of looking in Granger or Mishawaka or going out into the county,” said Sue Solmos. Solmos is the ring leading career realtor hired by the City of South Bend to help residents in five neighborhoods develop marketing plans.

In this case, a timely trend may make her job easier.

“There has been for the last seven to ten years, a growing urban remigration that’s been happening across the country,” said Professor Michael Keen, Ph.D. of Indiana University at South Bend. “Chicago has had a ten or 15 percent increase in its population over the last 20 years.” Keen also pointed to substantial growth in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Champaign, Illinois.

While some may think it can’t happen here in South Bend, Keen says big bucks are already being bet that it will.

The Eddy Street Commons project now under construction south of the Notre Dame campus is one of the first significant signs of a remigration here.

“I do not thing that the folks you know who are developing the Eddy Commons would have invested a couple of hundred million dollars in developing several hundred units of new housing if they didn’t believe there is a new attitude out there,” said Keen. “I would argue that South Bend is on the tipping point of really taking off.”

There is even a scientific reason for optimism. It is possible that a big population boost could result form the study of things small—with the announcement that Notre Dame will house the Midwest Institute for Nanoelectronics Discovery.

“There will be a lot of recruiting taking place with Notre Dame, with innovation park, and we’d like to capture some of those,” said Solmos.

“Marketing only works if you have a product that’s worth selling,” said Mayor Luecke, “and we think we have products that are worth selling in our neighborhoods.”

The marketing efforts will also target more traditional home buying suspects like empty nesters, apartment dwellers who are ready to buy a home, and recent college graduates.

Solmos admits that progress is likely to be slow until the economy shows some signs of stabilizing.

In the meantime, the planning process will continue.

Anyone who wishes to learn more about the program can call Solmos at 574-235-5879.

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