SOUTH BEND – On Monday night South Bend’s Common Council unanimously approved a resolution regarding the future of Chase Tower. Council members said they will work towards finding a reasonable solution to save the building and ensure it maintains a strong presence in the city.
The Council voted to take a more active role in revitalizing the city. Some members aren't convinced downtown's image is improving after Newsweek pegged the place a “dying city” last year.
But what about people who live and work in the city? Do they think the city has bounced back?
Aaron Perri, the director of Downtown South Bend, Inc. (DTSB), said there have been more ribbon cuttings, activities and energy surrounding the growth of the city in this past year. So WSBT hit the streets in the town’s heart to see if people feel this punch of excitement.
"I never thought we were dying city," said Charlotte Pfeifer of South Bend.
Pfeifer is in love with her hometown.
“South Bend is the wonderful, thriving city it always has been,” she said. “We're not Studebaker anymore, but we haven't been for what, 40 years?"
South Bend has taken some hits in the past few years. Vacant storefronts have stood front and center along the city's main street and companies like AJ Wright have said their goodbyes.
But some say a mini depression isn't enough to kill a city.
Café Navarre has been open since January. They said lately South Bend has been infused with energy.
“I think there is activity and new businesses starting up, and the businesses that are here are doing very well," said general manager Larry Katz.
But the Council says it’s still not good enough. On Monday they unanimously approved a resolution to make downtown development a top priority, saying it has been ignored for far too long.
But from people who live there...
"I’ve seen more shops open up and yeah, it’s bringing more businesses to downtown South Bend as well as community events,” said Daniel McLemore.
"I live close to town, so I come here all the time,” Pfeifer said. “There are always people coming down, strollers, people walking their dogs, biking.”
Other South Bend business owners said they're taking a realistic approach.
"I’m positive, but I’m not naïve,” said Mark Tarner, the owner of the South Bend Chocolate Company. “South Bend has a lot of issues."
Tarner said he's confident the city is slowly turning a corner.
"We have a lot of new competition,” he said. “Eddy Street is competition, the mall, Heritage Square is competition. I think we're doing OK compared to the competition. Are we thriving? Absolutely not."
The city said the downtown commercial business district is at 83 percent occupancy right now.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said change doesn't happen overnight.
Some argue there's always room for improvement. Others said South Bend has made big strides – they cite the new police substation downtown and new townhomes along downtown’s river.
Also, most recently, an affordable liquor license ordinance has been approved to attract new business to the city’s riverfront.