Diana Lawson is executive director of the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
From its inception, SoMa has been a community visioning and planning initiative led by Elkhart stakeholders. SoMa is not a formal organization or legal entity. It is an inclusive effort to create a downtown that is a destination for people to Live, Work and Play.
For nearly two years, a dedicated group of more than 60 community stakeholders has volunteered thousands of hours of time in developing an implementation plan to continue the revitalization of downtown Elkhart. The SoMa Implementation Strategy restates the community’s vision for a vibrant downtown, building on the strength of the Lerner’s success. The SoMa Implementation Strategy also defines the organizational structure and the funding mechanisms necessary to continue the downtown revitalization effort.
Since 2011, SoMa Study Group members and committee members gathered public input at community events, one-on-one meetings, public meetings and service club gatherings. Literally hundreds and hundreds of people participated, shared their thoughts and ideas of which all contributed to the final SoMa Implementation Strategy.
Here are the core elements of the SoMa Implementation Strategy (the full plan is available at the City of Elkhart website at http://is.gd/I5zeEH):
SoMa has always been a public/private community planning process and not an organization.
Downtown Elkhart Inc. has served as the Main Street organization for more than 25 years and will continue to serve in that capacity.
Supporting Our Main Assets (SoMa) means leveraging the talents all of the existing organizations including Downtown Elkhart Inc., the Redevelopment Commission and the Lerner Governing Board to become more effective and better funded within the shared vision and framework of one downtown revitalization plan.
Supporting Our Main Assets (SoMa) also means leveraging appropriate public investment including TIF with other private resources within the framework of this single downtown revitalization plan.
Tax Increment Financing has existed in downtown Elkhart for decades and does not increase the tax burden of any citizen or property owner.
TIF allows local government to improve an area by collecting property taxes based on increases in assessed value.
The SoMa Implementation Strategy provides a path for the future of downtown and has the opportunity to provide DEI with the direction and resources needed to secure continued downtown revitalization.
The SoMa Implementation Strategy recognizes the Lerner as the central hub and catalyst for downtown Elkhart.
For effective project management, the SoMa Implementation Strategy recommends five city positions to be located at the Lerner. The new positions will focus on downtown arts and entertainment management and marketing, organizing a downtown destination team, volunteer training, event coordination, and serving as a central resource for all downtown communications.
The SoMa Implementation Strategy proposes three of the positions be funded through TIF and two funded through private donations and grants. The City of Elkhart through the Lerner Governing Board and the Redevelopment Commission is the public partner.
DEI, the museums, gardens, attractions, restaurants, retail, events, downtown residents and property owners are the private partners.
The 2004 Downtown Action Agenda established the vision and set the boundaries for a vibrant Arts & Entertainment District in downtown Elkhart. The 400 Block Study defined the Lerner as the priority project to drive the success of the arts and entertainment district. The successful renovation and expansion of the Lerner was the community’s bold statement in realizing the vision of the arts and entertainment district as defined in the 2004 Downtown Action Agenda.
The SoMa Implementation Strategy recognizes that it takes a demonstrated commitment and focus to develop a well-managed downtown, with all stakeholders working together toward a shared vision under the framework of a single revitalization plan. Through this Implementation Strategy, the community is making the statement that truly Supporting Our Main Assets will provide the best opportunity for positive change and success in creating a downtown Elkhart that attracts people to Live. Work. Play.
SoMa team members
Dan Boecher, SoMa Residential Committee Chair & DEI Board Member.
Bill Lavery, SoMa Commercial Committee Chair & DEI Board Member.
Eric Leedy, SoMa Gateways & Greenspace Committee Chair & DEI Board Member.
Dallas Bergl, SoMa Arts & Entertainment Committee Chair.
Mike Huber, DEI Board President.
Ben Decker, DEI Board Vice President.
John Katalinich, DEI Executive Committee.
Crystal Welsh, City of Elkhart Community Development Director.
Diana Lawson, chairperson, SoMa Study Group.