DTSB highlights wins since pandemic but also urges downtown building owners to step up
The COVID-19 pandemic claimed many victims, and among them were downtowns. Of course, restaurants, bars and stores shut down as people avoided personal contact, but the pandemic also rapidly accelerated the work from home trend.
On Monday the nonprofit Downtown South Bend Inc. held a press conference in front of the “I (HEART) South Bend” sculpture at Jefferson and Michigan streets. The point of the event, said DTSB Inc. Executive Director Willow Weatherall, was two-fold: Summarize some positive news that’s happened over the past year downtown, but also, to remind people that there could be even more happening if property owners would make some changes.
DTSB Inc., which receives city of South Bend funding but is a separate organization from the city, wants downtown property owners to start working more with businesses who would love to move into vacant store fronts. Sometimes the spaces are larger than what a retailer wants to lease, requiring landlords to be more flexible and creative.
“We have properties that have been vacant for far too long, seen too much divestment, and they have property owners that are hands off,” Weatherall said. “They’re absent, it’s hard to engage with them. And they don’t want to make the needed investments to improve their properties so that we can send tenants to them and then activate the spaces.”
Weatherall also said many of the office jobs that moved to people’s homes during the pandemic likely aren’t coming back. Building owners need to start converting those spaces to much-needed housing.