SOUTH BEND – Is the land along the St. Joseph River in downtown South Bend the city’s golden ticket?
A new riverfront district is coming to heart of the city with hopes of becoming a new destination spot.
South Bend Common Council members approved the plan on Monday night.
Here's where we're talking about: This district will roughly cover the area around Memorial Hospital down to the area around the Sample Street Bridge on the East and West side of the River.
Here’s the incentive to attract businesses to that area: the city is making it possible for places within this district to obtain liquor licenses for a $1000. Getting one on the open market right now would cost $30,000 to $60,000.
They said this incentive might have the power to revive downtown.
'We have the mighty St. Joe, and it's a great river," said Mark McDonnell, owner of LaSalle Grill.
Some say it's time to embrace what Mother Nature has given South Bend.
"We've been a downtown that’s turned its back on the river too much," said Aaron Perri, the executive director of downtown South Bend.
So why not bank on the East Bank and develop along the river?
"Whether its empty land or vacant buildings, we can fill that up with cultural dining options," Perri said.
Some said the river is a money making tool the city has ignored for too long.
The vision is simple: Create a welcoming scene that will make downtown a hub for activity.
"The area is underutilized, certainly,” said McDonnell. “What do we have, a half dozen people here on a beautiful sunny afternoon in late June? We want to see thousands."
McDonnell said this now affordable liquor license will let him open a tavern-like restaurant along the river.
"It becomes an attraction tool for people to relocate in this district,” Perri said.
So why are city leaders so confident that South Bend's riverfront will be such a big hit? Right next door in Mishawaka the efforts to create a bustling riverfront haven't been very successful.
"We're not going to compare South Bend to Mishawaka,” said Councilman Henry Davis Jr. “We're going to expand our scope and look at the world because we want to be a destination.”
"That was a lot of real estate development that essentially went in and this decision doesn't have a bearing on real estate,” said Councilman Gavin Ferlic. “What this does is try to attract entertainment and restaurants.”
Although this plan sounds good on paper...
“There are bigger economic forces that work here,” McDonnell said. “You still have to get people to come here and invest money in South Bend, particularly downtown South Bend.”
And they say it won't take much to convince.
"We have the best river, the only real river," McDonnell said.
The ability to obtain these liquor licenses allows South Bend to compete with 22 other cities in Indiana.
South Bend's Redevelopment Commission will help businesses get the license from the state.
Dave Matthews, the developer of East Bank Townhomes and River Race Townhomes in Downtown South Bend, said as soon as that area starts to pick up he would love to build another housing development along the river.