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New community award part of Lerner celebration

Mayors Perron, Miller and Moore will be honored in July for role in renovating theater.

Posted on May 21, 2014 at 6:40 p.m.

ELKHART — July 11 to July 12 will be a weekend of triumphs for downtown Elkhart.

The city is organizing a celebration that unveils a new community award while also acknowledging the three-year anniversary of the renovated Lerner Theatre.

The award will be known as the Coeur de Cerf, a French word taken from Pierre Moran, the chief of the Potawatomi Indians and translated to mean the Heart of the Elk, according to Philip Miller, a member of the committee charged with organizing the events.

“The focus is going to be on individuals or groups who have done those things that are considered to be outstanding ... that give us that quality of life and put the heart back in Elkhart,” Miller said.

On the first night, organizers will host a dinner recognizing former mayors Jim Perron and Dave Miller as well as the city’s current mayor, Dick Moore, who oversaw the renovations and opening of the theater.

“We want to highlight the success we obtained within the community … of three successive administrations of different political parties to come to the same goal,” said Miller, whose family owned the theater for 26 years before selling it to the city.

Miller provided an update of plans for the celebration to the Lerner Governing Board on Wednesday.

Known formerly as the Elco Theater, the Lerner has become the centerpiece in the downtown revitalization plans laid out by SoMa, a volunteer group created by Moore about four years ago.

Each of the three mayors had a key role in seeing the theater rejuvenation.

Under Perron, the city purchased the theater from Philip Miller’s family and maintained the building while it was used sparingly as a movie theater.

Dave Miller’s administration oversaw a community-based study by Diana Lawson that looked at what to do with the building.

The study was completed at the end of Mayor Miller’s tenure and recommended the building be renovated.

Shortly after Moore took office, the city took steps to begin implementing the renovation process, much of which was financed with the issuance of bonds for more than $10 million along with more than $4.2 million in private contributions and another $2 million in tax increment finance revenues, according to Jack Cittadine, who served as project manager.

In June of 2011, the new Lerner Theatre opened with a series of shows that wrapped up with a free viewing of the Broadway production, “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Philip Miller thinks that continuity between two Democrat mayors and a Republican mayor — especially in an era of partisan political bickering — is noteworthy.

“We thought it was a good idea to say ‘Hey, look, when we all work together as centrists, regardless of your political background, if you all stay focused on the best interests of the community, we can get something done,’” Miller said. “We think we need to celebrate that.” 

He said they have tentative agreements from all three mayors to participate.

Plans include a dinner honoring the mayors and a presentation of the new award. Afterward, a concert featuring a yet-to-be named entertainer is scheduled for the theater.

On Saturday, July 12, the Lerner will host Bob Sander, a storyteller who performed at the Lerner 2013 and entertained the audience with details about the history of the Lerner.

David Smith, general manager of the theater, said Sander’s performance was so well received that they immediately asked him to return.

Also part of the plans for July 12 is a reception at the Wellfield Bontanic Gardens.

Planners want to also incorporate ways to promote downtown assets, including the gardens, Miller said.

Having a reception at Wellfield is part of that goal.


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