“This is a beautiful theater.” While those words have been uttered countless times in the Lerner Theatre since it reopened in 2011 after an extensive renovation, that sentence strikes a different chord when it’s said by the president of the United States.

"PBS Newshour" producers selected the Lerner for its "Questions for President Obama" town hall-style broadcast Wednesday not only for its elegant beauty but also for the technical requirements it could satisfy for a complex TV production.

Most people don’t see lighting and sound systems when they sit in the auditorium or adjacent Crystal Ballroom. They see what President Barack Obama did moments after he stepped onto the Lerner stage — the meticulously painted ceiling and arches and the lush colors that make the theater sparkle in any camera shot.

"Congratulations on a wonderful venue," the president said as he sat down in his chair.

Thank you, Mr. President, we’re quite proud of the Lerner.

In his time before the cameras, President Obama spoke of “stories” — narratives about Elkhart’s economic recovery and also claims made about his administration’s policies. As expected, he spoke about the turnaround in the city’s fortunes, highlighted by the success of the recreational vehicle industry.

Those narratives — as well as the political dimensions of his visit to Elkhart — were parroted all over the Internet in the hours and days afterward.

What President Obama perhaps wasn’t aware of is something we need to remind ourselves: Elkhart’s comeback story isn’t complete without talking about the Lerner.

The Lerner’s renovation stretched over three years, from 2009 to 2011. When President Obama visited Elkhart in 2009, he couldn’t have stepped on the Lerner stage, at least not without a hard hat.

President Obama also spoke in Elkhart of the difficult decisions he faces in the Oval Office. On those decisions, he said he is “dealing in probabilities” and the real risk that a course of action could go wrong.

The city of Elkhart and the Lerner’s supporters faced something similar a few years ago. Success was not guaranteed when the city approved the $18 million renovation, and critics worried that the investment was unwise. The investment was a bet that the wider community loved the downtown and the performing arts enough to make it pay off in the long run.

Thanks to smart management — and an improving economy — the Lerner is the centerpiece of a downtown renaissance. As more private investment flowed into the county, it has emboldened residents throughout Elkhart County to dream bigger.

Elkhart County leaders worked tirelessly with their counterparts in St. Joseph and Marshall counties to form a winning partnership. The result? A $42 million grant to invest in projects that will expand opportunities for residents and businesses to make their homes here, to attract and retain talented people, and to build a durable strong regional economy driven by innovation.

Would the Market District project be on the table without that momentum? With the combination of private investment, Regional Cities funding and community involvement, we’re in the early stages of a project that will bring a world-class aquatics and community center as well as commercial and residential development that will transform downtown Elkhart.

And that’s not all. Through Vibrant Communities, people from Goshen to Middlebury and Bristol, and from Nappanee and Wakarusa to Elkhart and Millersburg, have been dreaming even more ways to make our homes better. The Action Agenda that will be put into place, developed from the voices of close to 1,000 residents, will make an imprint on our homes for generations.

This goes far beyond a comeback story for Elkhart. This is a story about Elkhart County’s growth as a community that is stronger because of the bonds we feel for each other and for the distinctive qualities that make each city and town unique.

Terry T. Mark is the director of communications for the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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