Anyone that has visited or driven through downtown South Bend this year, has seen changes and witnessed massive commercial developments. The Smart Streets project, which is converting the one-way streets into two-way streets with round-a-bouts and new sidewalks and landscaping, is impossible not to notice. The redevelopment of the Chase Tower and JMS building into condos and the LaSalle Hotel and Amerigo renovations into apartments and commercial retail are also obvious improvements. Recently the parking lot which will become a new Courtyard by Marriot hotel was also tore up. All these developments are meant to bring much needed residents into the downtown area but in the meantime have made downtown a virtual construction site.
Has all the construction hurt business? Local owners say no. Mark McDonnell, owner of the LaSalle Grille, recently commented that despite the road detours business has been great. James, the owner of Bruno’s Pizza downtown, stated the same experience in his store. Recently I stopped in for lunch at the Chicory Cafe at the corner of Jefferson and Michigan St. I arrived at 11:45 and within 30 minutes the line to order food was steadily 12 people deep. The staff at Chicory handled the rush beautifully, the line moved quickly and food was brought out with little wait. Outside the cafe, the streets were a bustle of people enjoying music and food on their lunch break.
On the most recent First Friday Event downtown, people of all ages and backgrounds filled the sidewalks and local restaurants and pubs. Musicians played played in cafes and on the plaza, merchants displayed their wares in windows and on sidewalks, and everywhere people enjoyed the sunshine and atmosphere. In the evening hours, Latin music on the plaza drew party goers to dance on the plaza…yes even me. While enjoying a craft beer at Brew Werks, I chatted with a young guy from Dowagiac making his first visit to South Bend. He had been told that there was nothing going on in South Bend, but his first visit proved just the opposite. As someone that has worked downtown for the past 13 years, I have to admit that I have been completely amazed by the change in the town. The increased volume of people working, visiting downtown is amazing. It’s easy not to notice subtle changes, but the life and quality of new businesses downtown and East Bank is truly quite amazing and sure to continue to grow.
If you haven’t visited downtown recently, get out and make the short trip. If you have, share your experiences.