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Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024
The Observer

Mayor says community benefits from projects

Editor's note: This is the third and final installment of a three-part series examining the development projects occurring near Notre Dame's campus.

Notre Dame's collaboration with South Bend in development projects south of campus has raised questions about neighborhood gentrification, but South Bend Mayor Steve Luecke said these projects have greatly benefited the community.

The University helped jumpstart three projects - the Northeast Neighborhood Revitalization Act, the Eddy Street Commons and Innovation Park - in the hopes that a revitalized community around campus would improve life for students and faculty.

However, Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves said although the University has invested resources, these projects are not extensions of campus.

Luecke said the northeast neighborhood of South Bend saw a decline in the past decade, which inspired the formation of the Northeast Neighborhood Revitalization Organization (NNRO), a community group that is working with the city to improve the neighborhood.

"After several years, we were able to develop a concept for the neighborhood that included general ideas for Eddy Street Commons," Luecke said. "The University controlled most of that property, so they were an important factor."

The University sold the land to Kite Realty, who is developing the Eddy Street Commons, but the administration still has a say over the project guidelines. Notre Dame has also played a role in the revitalization of the neighborhood by developing decrepit lots with the goal of creating quality housing to sell to faculty and staff.

Marguerite Taylor, a lifelong resident of the northeast neighborhood, works with the NNRO. She said the one of the main objectives of the group is to protect the neighborhood from gentrification, or the displacement of low-income residents as a consequence of development.

"We worked with the University to make the ground rules and look over their shoulder all the time to make sure they were doing what they were supposed to, and they did," Taylor said. "There has not been one person that has moved from the area that's not better off than before the move."

In the early days of the project, Affleck-Graves said there was some concern about gentrification, but the University worked with the neighborhood residents so all parties could benefit from the project.

"A lot of that concern has dissipated," he said. "We don't want to go take over the whole neighborhood and rebuild everything."

Luecke said while the University is developing houses to sell to faculty, the city is concerned with subsidizing houses in the neighborhood to make them affordable for community members.

"Out of roughly 60 new homes constructed in the neighborhood, our commitment is that 30 percent will be available to lower income families," he said.

This effort will result in a mixed-income neighborhood with an offering of affordable housing and houses sold at the market rate, Luecke said.

Taylor said this effort has made it possible for many families in the neighborhood to own homes.

"The first family that moved [into a subsidized home] were renters. They never had owned a home," she said. "Through this program, they were able to purchase a home on Ironwood."

Taylor said the NNRO also has a say in the design of the Eddy Street Commons. She said when the project began, there was talk of calling the center 'University Village' but the NNRO vetoed that suggestion in favor of a name that doesn't imply a connection to Notre Dame.

With concerns of gentrification mostly put to rest, Luecke said the Eddy Street Commons is a bright spot in the current landscape of an economic downturn.

"The construction itself is creating jobs in the short term, and as the stores open up and the office spaces are filled, we will see additional jobs added in the community," he said.

Luecke said the city is paying for the parking garage in the Commons and some other infrastructural needs such as drainage and streetlights with a Tax Increment Financing plan. Instead of taking city money from other projects, this project will be funded by the increased property taxes that will arise from the commercial entities in Eddy Street Commons, such as the retail stores and a hotel.

Kite Realty, the private developer then pays for all the construction, and the University owns the land.

"There has been a huge private investment in the area, which is why the city is willing to make a public investment," Luecke said.

Along with creating jobs in the area, Taylor said Eddy Street Commons will bring foot traffic back to the neighborhood.

"I was born in this neighborhood, and you couldn't buy a loaf of bread without getting in your car," she said.

The Eddy Street Commons is the first attempt to bring commerce into the neighborhood surrounding campus, Luecke said.

"I think for many years the University and the city coexisted, but students weren't always encouraged to go off campus and there wasn't a lot of interaction with the community," he said. "So we didn't see some of the development that happens in other university communities."

Luecke said this recent collaboration between the University and the city represents an important, emerging partnership.

"I am delighted with the way people have worked together," he said. "There has been a deep recognition that our futures are linked. For each of us to succeed, we both have to thrive."

The Eddy Street Commons and the Northeast Neighborhood Revitalization project represent short-term development and economic stimulus, but the city and the University are also collaborating to bring about long-term economic development in the form of Innovation Park.

Along with Notre Dame, Luecke said the city has invested money into the project, and they acted as the applicant to the state of Indiana and the Federal government to receive status as a state research park and government money.

"The energy and the creativity that will focus there at Innovation Park is something that will enhance research on campus and make our community more attractive," he said. "We are seeing interest around the country in what happening in here in South Bend."

Luecke said the objective of Innovation Park is to transform research done at Notre Dame into businesses that will take root in the area and expand. Additionally, businesses will come to South Bend to use the research that emerges from the Park.

For example, Luecke said researchers at Notre Dame have worked with the city to make a product that functions in the sewers and reduces pollution flowing into the river. Innovation Park would take this idea and turn the research into a business that would sell the product beyond the city of South Bend.

Innovation Park sits on 13 acres, but Luecke said the vision ultimately extends beyond that.

The city has funded the construction of Ignition Park, which spans about 85 acres and would complement the work of Innovation Park by taking the research when it grows too large for the original Park.

"I think the next phase in our city's growth will be to be a rising center of creativity, innovation and commercialization," Luecke said. "Innovation and Ignition Park will show people how to take ideas and make them real products that benefit the community and create jobs and investments here."