The Elkhart Common Council approved federal COVID-19 relief funding Monday to help create a master plan for the city’s downtown.
In a memo filed with the council, Development Director Dayna Bennett said the pandemic took more of a financial toll on Elkhart’s core downtown than it did on other commercial areas, like the River District.
She said the city wants to hire a firm to “create the road map for prioritizing development in the downtown,” and asked for $117,000 in American Rescue Plan funding to help do it.
“If we can come close to replicating what has been done in the River District and take it all the way to Prairie and Main Street, I think that’s a great thing,” Councilman Arvis Dawson said.
The full plan is expected to cost $506,000, but Bennett said the city is seeking other funding avenues for the remaining $389,000.
Some council members argued that the River District’s success was mostly due to private investors and can’t be replicated by government investment.
“Sometimes the government has to get out of the way and let the private sector do what it’s supposed to be doing,” Councilman David Henke said.
But Mayor Rod Roberson said the city has to facilitate some kind of plan for business owners to feel confident in downtown properties.
“We got a hotel that just opened up. We have people that are interested in the Truth building,” Roberson said. “There have been multiple different inquiries, but they do want some way to engage in a plan that they feel as though there’s some consensus around.”
The plan would also extend to the neighborhoods surrounding downtown, which council and community members agreed are dilapidated.
“My request to this council is that no matter what happens – especially south of Main Street to Prairie Street and that neighborhood that sits in there – that you talk to people in that neighborhood before you make any direct decisions,” local pastor Cyneatha Millsaps said during public comment.
“And remember – south of the tracks – much has come down, and nothing put back up,” she added. “We don’t want to see that happen again.”
The council narrowly approved the funding in a 5-4 vote.
The funding comes from the $18 million the city received from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Federal guidelines say cities can use the money to support public health expenditures, address the negative economic impacts caused by the public health emergency, replace lost public sector revenue, provide premium pay for essential workers and invest in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.
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