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Downtown Elkhart focus of upcoming $250,000 marketing blitz
Posted on Nov. 13, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Nov. 13, 2013 at 4:49 p.m.

ELKHART — SoMa’s effort to promote downtown Elkhart will receive an infusion of $250,000 for marketing purposes for 2014 from two sources.

The Elkhart County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has agreed to provide $150,000 to SoMa and the city’s redevelopment commission agreed to provide another $100,000 expressly for marketing, said Diana Lawson, chairperson of the SoMa initiative. Her full-time job is executive director of the CVB.

News about the marketing money came to light during a Lerner Theatre board meeting Wednesday, Nov. 13, at city hall.

“It’s going to make a huge difference,” said Lerner board president Gary Boyn, who also serves as the attorney for the redevelopment commission.

Lawson said the CVB money should be viewed as a “one time” opportunity.

The SoMa initiative is the result of a two-year effort by a group of local volunteers working at the direction of Mayor Dick Moore to revitalize the downtown. SoMa stands for Supporting Our Main Assets.

The CVB’s main mission is to market the entire county for tourism purposes, but it has focused in recent years on the downtowns of cities within the county.

The CVB money will be used technically to promote the new RiverWalk Culture Trail, which traverses the entire downtown from the Wellfield Botanic Garden on the north side to the New York Central Railroad on the south end of the business district.

As a result, SoMa will be able to market the numerous destination points along the trail, Lawson said.

She said marketing could range from television commercials, brochures, maps, signs and local advertising.

The focus, though, will be aimed at area residents.

“It’s dedicated to creating an awareness locally,” Lawson said.

“The combination of those two investments will really get attention for the downtown and that’s what we need,” Lawson said.

“It’s really the first time we’ve had the resources.”

Lawson said SoMa officials are assembling a strategy on how the money will be used and it should be finalized within weeks.

Boyn said he believes merchants and property owners will see results from the marketing and that it will lead to greater pride and hopefully improvements on their part.

While the focus is making the downtown a destination point, by doing so, it could influence visitors about the idea of working and living in Elkhart, he said.

“I see this thing as having the potential to change the whole community,” Boyn said.

David Smith, general manager of the Lerner, added: “We want entities that exist downtown to look back in a year and say, ‘I’m glad to be downtown and I’m glad to be part of SoMa and I’m seeing a direct benefit,’” Smith said.

Word of the additional marketing money comes just weeks after city officials finalized funding plans to hire three full-time employees for SoMa. Two more could be hired if private funds can be found.

The three workers will be based out of the Lerner.

At the same time, the Lerner board is ironing out changes after city leaders decided to have the Lerner board oversee SoMa and Downtown Elkhart Inc. The Lerner board is also finalizing an arrangement with the redevelopment commission, which funds SoMa and DEI.

Crystal Welsh, director of community development, said the change makes sense since the redevelopment commission focuses more on bricks and mortar rather than promoting and coordinating downtown events.

SoMa’s three-pronged mission involves the theme of “live, work and play.”

SoMa management will focus on the entertainment aspects while DEI will work to make the downtown more attractive for an businesses and those who want to live in the downtown area. That will include improvements to the nearby residential areas on State and Division streets.

The Lerner board also received detailed plans for 2014 for SoMa and DEI.

The plans include specific benchmarks as a way to hold the groups accountable for their efforts, Boyn said.