How has South Bend changed under Mayor Buttigieg's leadership?
As Mayor Pete Buttigieg's star rises, there has been an increased focus on his time as mayor. Did he do what he promised? Could he have done more?
When Mayor Buttigieg took office in January of 2012, South Bend was still in a slow crawl out of the recession.
A year earlier, Newsweek listed South Bend as one of America's dying cities after years of declining population.
Unemployment was at a staggering 11.8% and 27% of people were living below the poverty line.
The many vacant properties scattered throughout the city were a daily reminder of the many who had left.
One of the mayor's campaign promises was to address 1,000 vacant homes in 1,000 days.
The project launched in February 2013 and was completed in September of 2015 three months ahead of schedule.
By the scheduled completion date in November, the city said it had addressed 1,020 vacant homes. Forty percent were repaired and the rest were demolished at a cost of $10 million.
During the mayor's tenure, two of the city's most noticeable vacant properties were also repurposed -the old Studebaker manufacturing plant and the Chase tower.
The over one-million square foot Studebaker complex has been vacant since its closure in 1963. It’s in the heart of the city's so-called Renaissance District.
It's currently in the middle of a more than $150-million redevelopment made possible through Regional Cities funding and Tax Increment Financing or TIF dollars.
The plan is to turn the old plant into a mixed use technology hub.
The Chase Tower fell into serious disrepair after its owner fell behind on mortgage payments sending the building to the sheriff’s sale and forcing its remaining tenants to move out in 2015.
"We have to continue to hold out and have discipline until we get the right kind of future setup for the Chase Tower," Mayor Buttigieg said.
Eventually a deal was reached to turn the 25-story building into a new hotel and apartments.
Today it's known as the Liberty Tower with the Aloft Hotel making up the first 10 floors. The remaining upper floors are set to be filled with apartments. Construction is expected to start later this year.
The city has credited the Smart Streets project with helping to make deals like the Liberty Tower possible.
The project completely changed the way people travel through downtown.
At a cost of $24-million, the Smart Streets plan called for converting the downtown's one-way streets into two way streets, along with streetscape improvements and construction of three roundabouts.
The idea was to slow down traffic moving through downtown and make it more accessible to businesses.
Despite mixed reviews from drivers the city claims it worked helping bring $100 million in new downtown investments like the LaSalle and Hoffman hotel apartments, JMS building.
That's not the only thing the city credits with getting smarter during Mayor Pete's tenure.
The city also began upgrading its sewer system after the EPA fined South Bend for violating the Clean Water Act in 2011.
The EPA ordered the city to make $500 million in improvements to its combined sewer system to stop the overflow of raw sewage into the St Joseph River.
The city partnered with a group of researchers at Notre Dame to implement a smart sewer system with 150 wi-fi enabled sensors throughout the city to detect rising water levels and re-direct water flow.
The first phase was completed in 2017 at a cost of $150 million.
It reduced combined sewer overflow by 75% and prevented more than 1,500 gallons of combined sewage from entering the river.
Phase 2 is expected to cost $700-million but the city says data from the smart system helped them develop a new plan that will cost only $200-million, slashing the overall cost by $500 million.
That plan is still waiting federal approval.
According to the numbers, the overall economy has improved under Mayor Pete’s leadership.
The city's unemployment rate has dropped by 8%.
The median household income has gone up but is still $20,000 below the national average.
The city's poverty rate while down remains more than 10% above the national average.
Despite those improvements, South Bend's eviction rate skyrocketed to almost three times the national average.
According to the eviction lab at Princeton University in 2016, the number of evictions more than doubled what they were in 2012 when the mayor took office averaging 3 evictions a day.
An ABC 57 investigation revealed a lack of affordable housing was a key part of the eviction rate.
The Buttigieg administration has also had a problem addressing the city’s homeless.
It reached a fevered pitch under the bridge on Main Street just south of downtown after it became known as Tent City.
The city eventually cleared out that space in December of 2016 without a permanent solution.
A small victory, though came in 2017.
The city partnered with the South Bend Heritage Foundation and with $5.5 million in federal and private dollars opened the Oliver Apartments, a 32 bedroom facility, to house homeless men and women.
According to the city, 12 of the residents previously lived under the Main Street bridge.
But with that victory came some problems.
“I was explained this was supposed to be a safe house. I don't feel safe here," said Dewayne Polk, a resident of the Oliver Apartments.
The property has been plagued by reports of drug use and crime. An ABC57 investigation found there were 160 calls for service to the apartments in its first 9 months open.
In 2017 the city also committed $1.4-million to establish an in-take center for the homeless.
The plan was to re-use modular classrooms no longer needed by Ivy Tech and turn them into a gateway center to provide temporary housing until more permanent arrangements could be made.
The city has yet to open the center or find a location.
Crime has been another major challenge for Mayor Pete especially the homicide rate.
It's also been a huge source of criticism from the community.