“The supermarket represents the season of the world. The farmers market is the season of your world.”
–Deborah Madison, author and chef

Monday, July 12, 2010

The UGM is part of Front Page News

From Saturday, July 10th South Bend Tribune: http://www.southbendtribune.com/article/20100710/NEWS01/7100315
(see also the interesting and somewhat long conversation about the article on the Tribune site. Very interesting...)

South Bend plans for LaSalle Square area redevelopment
Tribune Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND — Where some people now see vacant storefronts and empty lots, others see a future that includes new stores, homes, a civic plaza and a city park.

Those are among the ideas included in the LaSalle Square area redevelopment plan, crafted in 2008 by the city with help from community residents and consultants.

The work included a market analysis and demographic study of the area along Bendix Drive near Lincoln Way West on the city's northwest side. The planning included participation by nearby residents and property owners.
The LaSalle redevelopment area includes about 30 acres in and around the former LaSalle Square Shopping Plaza, which has lost most of its retail stores during the past 15 years. A Kroger grocery store, a G.L. Perry variety store, a Revco pharmacy, a Target store and other shops have closed or moved away.

The St. Joseph County Public Library is considering closing its LaSalle Branch near the shopping center, citing financial woes and declining use of that branch.

A market analysis indicated the area will not support new large retail development, but some convenience retail would be feasible. A small pharmacy, a dry cleaner, a limited-service restaurant and a grocery store specializing in fresh produce were ideas mentioned.

Since the plan was released in September 2008, some positive changes have occurred:

-Bendix Family Physicians opened at 1010 N. Bendix Drive. Residents had indicated a need for medical services in the area.

-The Urban Garden Market operates near LaSalle Square on summer Saturdays, providing a place for residents to buy fresh produce and other food.

-LaSalle Square was added to the Airport Economic Development Area tax incremental financing district, which means the city will be able to capture additional property tax money created by new development and use it to pay for streets, sidewalks and other improvements.

But no major new retail or housing development has occurred. Some nearby residents are frustrated by the slow rate of progress.

To get national-brand retailers to locate in areas that don't meet their demographic needs isn't likely, said Don Inks, director of the city's division of economic development. "To get CVS (or another drug store chain) to locate outside an area that meets their criteria is next to impossible," he said.

The Sterling Group, a property management and development firm based in Mishawaka, wants to build a senior apartment complex on vacant land just east of the LaSalle Branch library.

Sterling last year applied for tax credits to proceed but didn't receive approval, Inks said. The company plans to file again.

Tax credits are more likely if the land is owned by a governmental agency. The city is working to buy the vacant parcel from Faith Apostolic Ministries, then sell it to Sterling, Inks said.

Plan goals

The redevelopment plan set the following as goals to be reached by 2013: add streets, sidewalks and lighting within the target area to encourage vehicle and foot traffic; add streetscaping and a landscaped median that turns the Bendix-Lincoln Way intersection into a gateway to LaSalle Square; encourage development of the seniors' apartment development; create a city park in the southeast corner of the site; and promote the Urban Garden Market, a nearby community garden, and other public uses of the land.

Goals by 2018: Encourage more use of the nearby industrial areas; create a public plaza in the center of LaSalle Square; encourage retail along Bendix; demolish the existing St. Vincent de Paul building and the LaSalle Square plaza except for the church; and allow a residential developer to build new homes around the plaza.

Within 20 years, the plan recommends working with nearby residents to develop such possibilities as a community center and/or a community college satellite campus.

Jeff Vitton is a community development planner for South Bend who is working on the LaSalle Square plan. He notes the plan is for 20 years, and change won't occur overnight.

"There is a commitment to move forward. We want to rededicate streets through the plaza. That should help spur more customers (for retail businesses)," he said.

Like Inks, Vitton said it's unlikely a large grocery chain will locate in LaSalle Square without additional development preceding it. But something smaller, such as a neighborhood food co-op, is realistic, he said.

Jerry Niezgodski, chairman of the Lincoln Way West Gateway Association, was among community residents who helped develop the plan. He generally favors the plan's recommendations, but he's frustrated by what he sees as a lack of action on the part of city officials to promote the plan and encourage development.

City leaders are putting most of their focus on developing Eddy Street Commons and Ignition Park, and not devoting much time to LaSalle Square, he said. The dilapidated old LaSalle Square sign — with holes through it and the name "Kroger" still faintly visible — is symbolic, he said. The sign should be removed and replaced with a new one with contact information about development, he said.

"I think it could be a very successful redevelopment project, if the effort were made," he said.

Staff writer Margaret Fosmoe:
(574) 235-6329

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