Revitalization plan known as SoMa formally adopted

A comprehensive revitalization plan known as SoMa has been formally adopted by the Elkhart Redevelopment Commission.
Posted on Oct. 16, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Oct. 16, 2013 at 5:10 p.m.

ELKHART — Two years of planning came together Wednesday as the city's redevelopment commission officially adopted the SoMa revitalization effort for the downtown into its long-term plan.

In doing so, the commission can formally use tax increment financing revenues for the plans, including funding three new positions for the SoMa initiative.

SoMa — short for Supporting Our Main Assets — is a comprehensive vision that looks at various ways to make the downtown business district more attractive for tourists, residents and businesses.

The administration, with the redevelopment commission's support, is seeking to establish five new positions at Lerner Theatre that would work chiefly on the SoMa initiatives under the themes of “live, work and play.”

Numerous members of several SoMa planning groups spoke in favor of the plan Wednesday before the commission formally adopted the “project.”

Among those speaking on behalf of the plan were Diana Lawson, chair of the SoMa initiative; Mike Huber of Downtown Elkhart Inc.; and Dallas Bergl, a banker who has chaired one of several SoMa committees.

Nobody spoke against the plan.

Also speaking in favor was Dan Boecher, a downtown property owner who called SoMa “a true collaborative effort” that gained momentum through an “organic” process.

Among the major goals of SoMa is to improve communication and coordination of downtown activities, improved marketing and new incentive programs aimed at investors seeking to open stores or rent apartments.

Board member Paul Eash said that after hearing about SoMa for nearly two years, “It's nice to do something concrete.”

On Monday, city council will consider budget votes that include the three TIF-supported positions plus two others that officials hope to fund through private donations and grant money.

The redevelopment commission controls the spending of TIF monies, but the positions are included in the city budget and the annual salary ordinance, which also fall under the council's purview.

Some city council members have questioned the legality and appropriateness of using TIF revenues for paid staff.

Gary Boyn, attorney for the redevelopment commission, said he researched the issue and feels the plan is on solid footing legally.

He declined to say what the commission might do if council somehow tried to block the TIF-funded positions.

City Council's meeting on Monday night, Oct. 21, begins at 7 p.m.


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