Hundreds of nervous property owners show up at SB redevelopment commission meeting

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - More than 200 people flooded the County-City Building today in South Bend to attend a public meeting of the Redevelopment Commission.

Extra security was brought in, and an overflow seating area was set up in the fourth-floor lobby.

There were signs that it could become somewhat of an angry mob. The meeting room quickly filled to its 155-person capacity while approximately 65 additional visitors who were looking for face-to-face answers were turned away.

While people in the overflow area were told they would be able to hear the proceedings, the sound system did not work.

“I wasn’t sure about the property, what they were going to do. Whether they were able to make us sell our property to them," Liba Manriquez said.

Manriquez was among those who received a letter saying that her property was being added to the commissioners' acquisition list.

A similar letter arrived at the South Bend Marine Corps League, where it was deemed a viable threat.

“It made us wonder if we were going to have to talk to someone about selling our property or not, and then if we were going to have to move,” General Manager Samuel Alameda said.

“We ended up sending over 2,000 letters, and that’s to every individual property that was impacted,” Community Investment Planner Chris Dressel said. “There was a fewer number of property owners because there were many property owners that had multiple properties.”

Dressel made two presentations -- one inside the council chambers and one in the overflow area -- explaining that being placed on the acquisition list isn’t as bad as it sounds.

“What's really important is that the redevelopment does not have condemnation authority. What that means is if the redevelopment commission were interested in purchasing a parcel that was on the acquisition list, they would still need to come to an agreement with the seller,” commission member Gavin Ferlic said.

Officials explained that being placed on the list didn’t mean that the commission wanted to buy a listed property and that it was more a sign that new neighborhoods were being added to the city’s tax incremental financing districts, or TIF districts, which brings new opportunity.

“We’re in fact looking forward to it,” River Park Neighborhood Association President Phil Niswonger said. “We’ve been hoping for more city or state funds to help improve River Park, because a lot of the funds have gone to other parts of the city.”

The crowd quickly thinned and the redevelopment commission eventually approved boundary adjustments to four of its TIF districts.