'It's amazing' Regional Cities Initiative making headway in Northern Indiana

MISHAWAKA, Ind. - After more than 35 and a half million dollars were distributed to cities in Northern Indiana for projects to improve quality of place and attract more people to the area, Indiana Secretary of Commerce Jim Schellinger was in Mishawaka and South Bend Friday to tour some of the completed projects of the Regional Cities Initiative.

"It's amazing what's happened up here in the central region with the Regional Cities initiative," Schellinger said. "I was just talking to the mayor. What's so impressive is the whole region, Elkhart County, St. Joseph County, Marshall County, you told us what you were going to do, and you've done exactly that."

Schellinger toured the Mill at Ironworks plaza and Biergarten in Mishawaka and Howard Park in South Bend, three of the completed projects in the Regional Cities initiative. The overall project is a partnership between the State of Indiana and cities like Mishawaka, South Bend, Elkhart, Goshen and Plymouth. That partnership aims to improve those cities so as to create more "destination cities" in Indiana and attract people to more areas in the state than just Indianapolis. Mishawaka Mayor Dave Wood said success of the project comes down to the people.

"Anytime I come down here and I see families out on a stroll, enjoying themselves, maybe popping in to the local restaurant, maybe going on a bike ride, maybe sitting out on their balcony enjoying a beautiful sunset, maybe coming out to our park and enjoying a free concert event with some good local food and beverages, that's success to me," Wood said.

Wood said he hopes this project can help Mishawaka quickly develop, much like a central Indiana city has that he hopes Mishawaka can emulate through this project.

"We took a trip down to Fishers where the sibling of this building sits," Wood said. "We went and looked at it several years ago. It was one building much like ours here surrounded by not much right in downtown Fishers. I went back last year, and the entire area was developed. We're seeing that here now."

Project leaders said seeing some of the completed projects in the area have them excited to keep going.

"All of these are amenities that are attractive and bring young people, retired people, people really of all ages are looking for those types of amenities in the places that they are looking to move," said Regina Emberton, the President and CEO of the South Bend/Elkhart Regional Partnership. "So, we are able to offer both great jobs and an amazing quality of life, and it really is making a difference in the population with increases across the region. We're heading in the right direction."

People from the area hope the project will continue with things like park improvements.

"Definitely create more restaurants and outdoor opportunities for families," said Molly Robinett who grew up in South Bend. "We're at Howard Park. It's been really nice for me and my husband to bring my son out here, but it's still very limited on where we can go sit and eat outside, listen to live music and support local businesses."

So far 17 of the 26 planned projects for the initiative are done. Six are under construction and three are still in the planning stages. A full list of the projects can be found here.

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