SoMa chose exactly the right three words — “live, work, play” — to describe its original mission. But now they no longer seem adequate.
Perhaps the motto for Supporting Our Main Assets should expand to include “grow” and “inspire.”
SoMa leaders announced a series of developments Friday for the 500 block of South Main Street that that continue to reshape downtown Elkhart — and, with it, the city’s economy.
The initiatives, as reported by Dan Spalding in Saturday’s Elkhart Truth:
■ Kurt Janowsky, one of the hottest restaurateurs in the Midwest, plans to open a fine-dining establishment this summer at 505 S. Main, site of the former Flytrap’s. Its working name: Artisan.
■ When brothers Steve and Frank Hill open their new family-oriented restaurant in the old Mad Anthony’s at 526 S. Main, they’ll call it Cubby Bear Pizza.
■ Ad Stream, StrataShops and Dragonfly Footbags — owned by John Webber — now share renovated space at 515 and 513 S. Main.
■ And two companies now sharing rental space on South Main — Elk River Upcycle and n.wirtdesign — hope to buy a larger building at 503 S. Main.
SoMa, a study group convened by Mayor Dick Moore, spent more than two years developing its plans for South Main. From the start, its goal was to transform downtown into a place where people want to live, work and play.
It’s all coming true. The empty storefronts are beginning to fill with small, innovative, homegrown businesses, and the apartments above them are attracting affluent renters.
Dan Boecher, executive director of Downtown Elkhart Inc., noted the renovation of four upscale apartments above the The Black Crow On Main, 224 S. Main St., a home decor shop that opened earlier this winter.
That brings the total to more than 80 apartments developed or restored downtown over the last 10 years, Boecher said.
Admittedly, the city still has work to do on South Main.
"We’re not done,” Boecher acknowledged. “We still have issues within this block, but this is an affirmation, to some extent, that the vision that was cast is one that is believable and that has real legs to continue into the future.”
Vision matters. Momentum matters. And so does investment.
“If you have an idea and you think it’s going to contribute to what we’re doing in our downtown or our city, be here, because this is the time to be in downtown Elkhart,” said SoMa’s chairwoman, Diana Lawson. “I can tell you, this is the time.”
Elkhart, like the rest of the county, relies on manufacturing to drive its economy — a reliance that puts us at serious risk during downturns. But when entrepreneurs buy and improve downtown space, payrolls grow and property values increase. And when that happens, we can begin to restore funding for our public schools, repair ourstreets, fund the arts and hire more police.
SoMa’s initiatives inspired growth and diversification in downtown Elkhart; DEI’s investment strategies promise to cement those gains. They’ve developed the right approach at the right time for this city.
“SoMa — live, work, play, grow, inspire.” Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?