In his July 29 annual state of the city address, South Bend Mayor James Mueller made infrastructure investments a priority and announced plans for a revamped community center on the city’s west side.
Mueller said that over the past decade, South Bend has made major investments in vibrant public spaces and neighborhoods with the Potawatomi Zoo, the East Race, Century Center, the Morris Theater, Four Winds Field and major overhauls of the Charles Black Center, Pinhook Park, Pulaski Park and Howard Park through the My SB Park and Trails program.
And as part of that effort, he said the city is planning a major revamp of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center.
“The time is right to transform the King Center to a dream center at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park,” Mueller said. “We can build a world class, intergenerational community center, inspiring hope for us all.”
The plan is still in the very early stages, but Mueller said the redeveloped center may include small business incubation, educational opportunities, health resources, recreational activities and creative programming.
Mueller also said the millions in federal COVID-19 relief dollars South Bend is getting through the American Rescue Plan are a “once in a generation chance” to transform the city.
With all that cash, the city is planning investments in infrastructure, affordable housing and early childhood education — over the next three years, South Bend plans to add more than 300 new pre-k spots through a partnership with the United Way of St. Joseph County.
As for infrastructure, Mueller’s big priorities include the city’s rebuilding our streets plan — a $25 million, three-year initiative — and investments in water and wastewater treatment as part of compliance with a federal consent decree to reduce sewage discharge into the St. Joseph River during heavy rains.
South Bend has proposed a utility rate hike to pay for those improvements, but it currently doesn’t have the votes to pass the common council.
“I believe that the rate and capital improvement plan our team filed with council is the best path forward for our city,” Mueller said.
But he added that he’s willing to compromise.
“This is too important for any of us to allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good,” Mueller said. “Now to my council colleagues, let’s find the right compromise and get this done.”
Mueller said the city is also making investments in solar power as part of efforts to combat climate change. Over the next two years, the city wants to install 3,000 solar panels — providing 1 megawatt of power — on city rooftops.
That implementation will be partnered with new solar incentive programs and the city’s existing home repair program.
Mueller also spoke about the city’s battle against gun violence. He touted the South Bend Alive grant program, which was set up by the new Office of Community Initiatives and partners with local organizations to engage youth.
He said the city’s strategic focus unit, which focuses on identifying people most responsible for gun violence, made 158 arrests in 2020. The city is also conducting an audit with the National Network for Safe Communities to see how it can improve it’s gun violence prevention strategies.
On police reform, Mueller promoted the South Bend Police Department's updated use of force policy, and said the department will recruit more officers and implement new de-escalation training this year.
He said the SBPD responded to 96,000 calls in 2020 and only received 36 complaints. And despite the “bumpy start” of the new Community Police Review Board, Muelller said he and the Common Council are “committed to getting it back on track.”
As for the pandemic, Mueller said he’s proud of the city’s COVID-19 response and praised city workers for stepping up to provide related services.
But with cases rising throughout the state due to the spread of the more contagious Delta variant, he urged people to get vaccinated.
Almost 50 percent of St. Joseph County residents are fully vaccinated, but rates vary widely by zip code.
“We must do everything we can to get more vaccines in arms,” Mueller said. “We cannot rest or become complacent until the threat is gone.”
Despite the pandemic, Mueller said South Bend received nearly $117 million in new private investment, supporting over 500 jobs, from January 2020 through the first half of 2021.
That includes new breweries, restaurants, a downtown office building and the soon-to-open Trader Joe’s.
“After years of petitions, we finally reeled them in,” Mueller said. “During a pandemic nonetheless.”
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