Downtown Elkhart's new marketing plan unveils 'Gateway Mile'

The advertising blitz will highlight downtown amenities and is part of SoMa’s revitalization plan.

Posted on May 28, 2014 at 7:03 p.m.

ELKHART — City officials want more people to “Do Downtown Elkhart,” and have launched an expansive marketing plan with that goal in mind.

A new slogan and website, along with a significant advertising blitz that begins within days, are part of a $150,000 campaign aimed at re-branding the city’s downtown district.

The campaign pitches downtown’s Main Street as the “Gateway Mile,” including numerous destination points.

That segment physically extends from the National New York Central Railroad Museum on the south end to Wellfield Botanic Gardens on the north end and is close to a linear mile. The driving distance, technically, is 1.2 miles.

Eventually, the gateway entrances will be more pronounced to draw attention to the downtown stretch.

In the meantime, the branding theme, Gateway Mile, will be hard to miss over the next three months.

Advertising will include print, digital, television and billboards, and will highlight all of the downtown assets.

“Our goal is to hit all elements across the board,” said David Smith, general manager of the Lerner, whose role downtown has expanded with the establishment of a series of initiatives sought by SoMa, the downtown revitalization group.

“The concept of the Gateway Mile will help communicate to the entire community and region that our downtown has tremendous value with our assets and existing resources,” Smith said.

The entire campaign, including maps that will be distributed in the county, was prepared by Axiomport, a full-service advertising company in Indianapolis, said Diana Lawson, executive director of the Elkhart County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

News conference set for Friday
SoMa, the downtown revitalization group, will host a news conference at 10:30 a.m. Friday, May 30, to discuss several initiatives including the city’s new marketing program.

The event will be in the lobby of the Lerner Theatre.
According to a news release announcing the media event, officials will also announce a new loan program and investment opportunities involving downtown properties.

An update is also expected for the Elkhart Jazz Festival.

Lawson has also overseen the efforts of SoMa, which was launched by Mayor Dick Moore several years ago.

The first sign of the marketing effort showed up last week in a series of banners that were unveiled as part of the city’s rededication of the Memorial Bridge along North Main Street.

Officials opted for a slow rollout of the campaign, in part because they wanted to present components of the plan directly to individual downtown “stakeholders.”

City leaders view the numerous amenities as an overall destination point, Smith said.

Activities at the Lerner Theatre, the Ruthmere Museum, Wellfield Botanic Gardens, the Midwest Museum of American Art, the National New York Central Railroad Museum as well as an increasing number of restaurants and stores make the downtown a concentrated area of opportunities, Smith said.

Smith said city officials believe they have enough attractions that can lure people to downtown Elkhart for various activities in one day.

Accompanying the Gateway Mile theme is the slogan, “Do Downtown Elkhart.” Both phrases are being used in the advertising campaign.

SoMa sought and received $250,000 for the marketing blitz. The county CVB provided $150,000 and the city’s redevelopment commission set aside $100,000.

Money from the redevelopment commission will be used, among other things, for web development, Lawson said.

The current marketing effort is viewed as an internal campaign that focuses on markets in Elkhart and South Bend.

Next year, the CVB plans to broaden the campaign to stretch from Chicago to Detroit to Indianapolis, Lawson said.

Lawson said there’s a belief that the theme needs to be established locally before they deliver the message further away.

“An important part of this campaign is to reintroduce downtown to the local community and really create a ripple effect,” Smith said.

According to paperwork provided by SoMa, the brand and slogan will help establish a unique and marketable identity and increase awareness about the downtown Elkhart’s vibrancy and ongoing activities.

Another key component will be the debut of gatewaymile.com, a website that will pull together the web presence of all of the downtown amenities and will categorize information into SoMa’s “Live, Work, Play” mantra.

The website should be available within a week or so, Smith said.

Another aspect of the campaign is the Gateway Mile Loyalty Card, available for free to anyone who fills out a form on gatewaymile.com.

The loyalty card entitles users to discounts from participating stores. So far, about 20 merchants have agreed to participate. 

“Merchants are thrilled,” Smith said.

Dan Boecher, executive director of Downtown Elkhart Inc., said he believes the loyalty card has a lot of potential.

Eventually, the card could include additional perks for those who live in the downtown.

“It’s one of those competitive tools that we’re going to use that will make living or having your business in the Gateway Mile an added benefit,” Boecher said.

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