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Elkhart eyes downtown site for $40 million public safety hub

Elkhart officials have proposed buying the former Chase building on Franklin Street in downtown for a new public safety building.
Marek Mazurek/WVPE
Elkhart officials have proposed buying the former Chase building on Franklin Street in downtown for a new public safety building.

A building that’s been vacant in downtown Elkhart since 2019 could soon be repurposed to a public safety center with around $40 million of city money.

On Tuesday Elkhart officials — including mayor Rod Roberson — stood outside the West Franklin Street façade and announced the city wants to spend roughly $40 million to buy and refit the old Chase building. The goal is for the city’s police, fire administration and 911 dispatchers to share the 90,000 square feet.

“There’s a few wins in this opportunity that we wouldn’t have received building new and making sure we actually build out our downtown in the manner that we absolutely needed to,” Roberson said.

The city’s public safety stations currently sit next to each other two blocks east on Waterfall Drive, but police and fire representatives say their current digs are cramped and could be modernized.

"Equipment gets more and more so as we get more advanced and into science-based policing, you have to add things. Back in the 1970s, you didn't have server racks, you had desks and typewriters," said Elkhart Police Chief Dan Milanese, who noted the current police building was built in the 1970s when the force had about 80 officers. Today it has more than twice that.

Instead of paying for renovations to multiple buildings, Elkhart’s redevelopment commission will vote Tuesday night to give city staff the power to bid on the building. If that approval is given, it could still take a month or two for the city to close on the sale.

121 West Franklin St.

The building the city wants to buy was built in 1974 for the St. Joseph Valley Bank, according to Mike Huber, Elkhart's Director of Development. Since then, it primarily became known as the Chase building when the national bank used its offices for many years until recent years when an assorted collection of businesses and law firms used the space.

The office building has been vacant since 2019 and Roberson said his administration has been in talks for a few years about what to do with the prominent downtown space.

Given the national decline in demand for office space, that wasn't a likely option and Huber said the building's design made it inefficient for housing. The city soon believed that any future use for the location would have to involve the city and given the need for new public safety space, Huber said.

"It is a landmark building. It's been a presence in the downtown since the 1970s," Huber said. "For us to be able to restore, bring it back to that kind of glory, and to have it serve as a real anchor for further and future development in our downtown — that's what excites me."

The $40 million price tag would include both the purchase of the Chase building as well as expected renovations. Huber estimated buying the renovating in downtown would be around $20 million cheaper than building an entirely new structure.

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.