Rejuvenated DEI has specific plans for 2014

Downtown Elkhart Inc. is moving forward aggressivley with several projects this year.
Posted on Feb. 25, 2014 at 4:29 p.m.

ELKHART — A new sense of excitement and immediacy enveloped the tone of Downtown Elkhart Inc.’s board meeting Wednesday, Jan. 22, when Dan Boecher gave his first report as the new executive director.

Boecher has been part of DEI since its inception nearly a decade ago but was hired in late December to be DEI’s first full-time director in at least two years.

Boecher conveyed a gung-ho enthusiasm and updated the board about his initial activities since beginning work out of DEI’s office at 112 Division St., on the first of the year.

“It’s a new day for DEI,” Boecher said, who left a banking job to take the position and has a varied background in management, city government, sales and work on the not-for-profit side.

“I truly feel that everything that I’ve done up to this point has led me to be able to do this job,” Boecher said.

Boecher’s immediate goal is to develop a database by contacting property owners in the downtown business district as well as property owners in several nearby residential areas. The information will be more comprehensive than past efforts by DEI and will be used to market available business properties as well as apartments and homes in and around the downtown.

The residential areas include State and Division streets, North Second Street and West High Street, he said.

That database will also include a listing of groups wanting to be involved in downtown activities and will be made public through one or two websites, he said.

Boecher was given permission by the board to seek part-time assistance to help assemble the database.

Boecher will be the only full-time employee of DEI, but funding for support services had been set aside in DEI’s 2014 budget for “short-term, small scope” projects, he said.

The board approved plans to contract hiring someone to work on the database with an expected cost of $5,000 to $6,000.

Boecher talked extensively about the establishment of goals and benchmarks, some of which will be reviewed by the end of March.

The organization is also moving forward with two major initiatives that could be formally established and announced early this year.

DEI is working to acquire 11 properties that will be renovated and then made available for rent. Two other properties owned by the city of Elkhart will eventually be transferred to DEI.

Improving adjacent neighborhoods represents a “fairly dramatic expansion” of DEI’s role, but Boecher said he and others believe the health of the near-downtown neighborhoods and the business district are “inextricably linked.”

He declined to identify the residential properties, but he described some of them as “the worst of the worst” in terms of condition.

Boecher said DEI will seek a loan through a regional bank and financial support from Indiana Landmarks.

A third source of financing will be sought Jan. 28, when DEI seeks a loan guarantee through Aurora Capital Loan Fund for $200,000.

Aurora Capital is a not-for-profit entity used to help finance construction and rehabilitation of commercial properties in Elkhart, according to the city of Elkhart’s website.

Aurora Capital had been dormant for more than a year but was re-established by the city late last year.

DEI is also working to establish a loan pool program to assist investors and has been seeking financial support.

If financing for both endeavors comes together, Boecher said DEI would likely be ready to formally announce details by late February.

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