ELKHART - The mayor of Elkhart says the planned Civic Plaza and Central Park revitalization project will be a big economic boost for the city. Partial funding for the $5 million first phase of the project was approved this week by the Elkhart Redevelopment Commission. The funding paves the way for design work to begin and Mayor Tim Neese says the effort will provide a more streamlined approach to hosting public events in the city's downtown.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Neese said the project adds to the importance of creating a vibrant downtown to attract visitors, businesses and potential residents.

"I want Elkhart, as the mayor, to be very competitive," said Neese. "If all things are equal, it's possible that a business or individuals wanting to visit or reside here permanently just might do that based on our downtown."

The city says the project's first phase will focus on green space enhancements, a permanent performing stage, public restroom facilities, and a shaded seating area. 

Neese says the city went from hosting five downtown events to 66 in about two years, which can sometimes create a logistical issue because of the need to close Main Street. The project will also include improvements to nearby Waterfall Drive, which the city says will reduce the need to close Main Street.

"It is a real cross section of activities for people that want to come downtown, so what we are doing is really trying to modify the area so we don't have to close Main Street and then have a more centralized location, which is green space as well as Elkhart Civic Plaza," said Neese.

Neese says the city will continue to gather public input on the project as the design phase rolls on. Construction on the first phase is expected to begin by the end of the year.