A Conversation with Mayor Pete Buttigieg: Part 2

When Pete Buttigieg took office in January of 20112 he was South Bend's first new mayor in 24 years.

He says being mayor of the city he grew up in is magical and he can't imagine anything he would rather be doing right now.

And when his part of South Bend history is written he wants it to be a story of how the city turned the corner and shook off the hangover of losing Studebaker 50 years ago. He hopes the story will read that South Bend chartered a new economic and social path.

He believes the community is ready for change, saying, "I think it's happening. I think electing me was partly South Bend sending a signal, that we believe in the future."
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And while he returned to his home to work, a lot of young college grads don't, but the mayor says work is underway to reverse brain drain.

"To live in South Bend right now is not just about a choice about where to live, it's about being part of a project, the project of bringing our city forward to its next chapter in history. And we're big enough to matter but small enough for that an individual who is motivated can make a big difference."

He explains one example is the En Focus Program which invites Notre Dame grads to stay in town and work on civic issues."It invites people who are graduating from a science or business program at Notre Dame to pass up some of those great jobs offers they are getting to spend a year here working on civic issues and we find that some people are really excited by that. They're definitely not here for the money."

So, where does he see the city in ten years? "I think we're going to be a city that feels more like a city. You know we started out that way and in some ways, you know in the 60's, 70's and 80's we have lost that character of ourselves, felt less like a city but we see it coming back."
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A walk along the riverfront shows the changes occuring downtown, changes that may eventually rival those that have revived river fronts in towns like Fort Wayne or Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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Like the condos that are attracting young adults and baby boomers.

"You know when cities were first built the river was like a combination of a conveyor belt and a sewer. People didn't think of it as something they wanted to face."

He says people are choosing to move back into the city because " they want to be able to walk over and get something to drink at the Emporium or the View and maybe across the river to something going on in the business district."

When does he foresee more retail and restaurants returning to the downtown area? He says rooftops translates into business. "The more people you have living downtown the more retail takes note. I think you're going to see more residential growth, so this is a start. But I think you're going to see more of a conversion of office space into residential. i think you'll see our parks taken to the next level. It's not something we are talking about right now but we do need to make a major investment in parks in the coming years."

And he says the rebirth of Coveleski Stadium and the building of the Kroc Center on the west side of town have gone a long way in helping South Bend's image.

" it really brings a new energy downtown and it's also a great example of how a public/private partnership ought to work.A lot of private investment is what made that possible, working together with the city."
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He's also studying the traffic patters downtown to see if changing from one way to two way streets would attract new owners to buildings like the old LaSalle Hotel.

And if he had a magic wand, how would he use it? He says he would zap abandoned houses to either have them rehabed or gone as part of his Thousand Houses in a Thousand Days initiative.

But again, he says it takes partnership, "I want everybody to think, 'how much can they put me down for, what can i do to help.' Whether it's a bank that can give a whole set of properties or an individual who can decide to mow a lawn on a property on their block."

He has high hopes for the city and admits a lot more needs to be done. So what about the mayor. Where does he see himself in ten years?

" I've got the best job in the world, I love it. I can't imagine anything that would be more fulfilling Don't get me wrong, it's hard and some days there are some political moments I could do without. This is a lot of fun and I think each passing year as mayor you have the chance to see more and more of an impact of the decisions you've made. We're not a big city, we're not supposed to be a big city but I think we can come into our own as a small city."

And he hopes to be around to see that happen.

He also expects more collaboration from the colleges and universities in our area and he says there is cooperation among neighboring cities where there used to be competition in the past.
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Mayor Buttigieg says the new reality is that we are not competing with each other but with a global economy that doesn't care about the difference between South Bend or Mishawaka or Elkhart or Osceola.
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He says we've got to start thinking together, as a region and move forward.
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And if you'd like to see the first part of my conversation with the mayor you can go to our website and click on this story.

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