Plans that could involve $300 million in development to transform a portion of downtown Elkhart into a more walkable and livable community are underway and leaders behind The River District say it will play a vital role in workforce attraction and retention. Inside INdiana Business With Gerry Dick was on-location for a special edition of the show in Elkhart County and River District Implementation Team Chair Dave Weaver said the project will be a "generational transformation" for the city. The group says Elkhart currently has more open jobs than citizens to fill them and the 105-acre development, which includes projects already underway like a $65 million aquatics center, will boost the quality of life in the manufacturing-intensive city.
Bob Deputy, a philanthropist and former manufacturing executive, was featured on the show and is also part of the River District Implementation Team. He says the district will be an "aspirational place" that will draw people to live, work and play. "The property has been acquired, so it will go out for bid for people who want to come in and build housing, residential, commercial, even office facilities," Deputy said, "and they’ve set standards so this will be a walkable, classy place."
Estimates show nearly 30,000 workers from outside of Elkhart County commute there for work each day and the county’s 2.7 percent unemployment rate is tied for the lowest in the state, prompting the city and community leaders to look for a big play. "Elkhart’s a place that’s known for its entrepreneurial spirit, its spirit of getting things done, and luckily the stars aligned where a group was able to get together, the city was in a place where it was financially strong enough to invest $30 million in public infrastructure just in the River District," Weaver said. "The city’s in for a lot of money, private investment is in for a lot. We’re here to do something transformational."
In addition to the housing and commerce possibilities, plans for the district also call for trail systems that will help create better connections throughout the city and as Weaver added, "will actually activate" the riverfront with recreational access to the St. Joseph River and Elkhart River.