ELKHART — Faith Mission of Elkhart, a Christian social service agency, has a potential buyer for its old thrift store on 1017 S. Main St., but its officials said they hope to get a higher bid from the city.
The agency’s executive director, Ross Swihart, told the Redevelopment Commission he has received a $35,000 offer for the now-unused building. But since that is below an appraisal the commission previously had requested, Swihart asked the commissioners if they might be interested in the property.
The city denied a request to disclose details of the appraisal.
Commissioner John Horvath asked the director what the potential buyer intends to do with the building, which has been empty for a year.
“He was looking to put some type of store in there,” Swihart said.
The city has shown previous interest in the surrounding area, he said, and Swihart has worked to get the city to include the former thrift store in the commission’s plans.
“Why would you leave us there? None of those buildings have any architectural value, in that whole area down there,” Swihart had previously told a city official. “Why don’t you just blow up that whole area and redevelop it?
Faith Mission, most of all, wants to have nothing to do with the building, and the organization’s board of directors instructed Swihart to get rid of it, he said, whether the Redevelopment Commission wants to take on the area or not.
That has led to four offers so far, but only the one at $35,000 has been taken seriously by Swihart.
Horvath said if that buyer intends to do something that would be desirable for the area, he wants the commission to stay out of it.
“But if it was something that would not be desirable, then maybe we should pick up the property,” he said.
The property for sale includes the former thrift store itself, as well a parking lot and a grass lot north of the building. Asked by Horvath, Swihart said Faith Mission would also be willing to sell its properties on nearby Redding Avenue and South 2nd Street, though those are not listed for sale.
Swihart said it would be a good idea for the Redevelopment Commission to get involved with South Main Street area south of the train tracks. If the buyer offering $35,000 buys the property, Swihart fears the area will not improve as easily.
“What do you want the South Main district south of the tracks to look like?” he said. “If you get a hold of it, you can control that whole area.”
Some people don’t want to drive through that area, he said, and that is not only a problem right there, but also for bringing people through Main Street to downtown.
Commissioner Wes Steffen asked Swihart if Faith Mission holding on to the property rather than passing it on, perhaps leading to “nefarious activities,” couldn’t be seen as part of Faith Mission’s mission, but Swihart was not convinced.
“There’s a reason I want to get out of that area,” he said. “Some of the stuff that’s been going in there, you need to push it out of that area.”
Abby Wiles, the city’s assistant director for community, economic and redevelopment, said it may be time to reimagine the corner of Prairie Street and South Main Street, which is where 1017 S. Main St. is located.
Dorisanne Nielsen, a non-voting representative to the commission, suggested that the area might need a proper grocery store.
“I watch people walk by my house on the other side of the Lexington Avenue bridge all the way to Martin’s, and they go every day, because that is all they can carry,” Nielsen said. “We need to look at areas where we can do something about the grocery deserts that we have.”
The former thrift store is next to a convenience store, but that is not the kind of shopping that Nielsen said she believes the neighborhood needs.
Crystal Welsh, who left a job as the city’s director of development services earlier this year, spoke as a member of the public and recommended that the commission should get involved with the Faith Mission building.
“Downtown Elkhart starts at Prairie and Main. That’s your gateway to your downtown,” she said. “It is in a condition that we for years have wanted to do something about, it was just lower on the priority list than some of the other projects.”
She specifically suggested buying the property, and others in the area, to perform “strategic demolitions.”
Commissioner Kyle Hannon made a successful motion to begin efforts to purchase the property.
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