Next phase of River District plan ready


City invites community to public presentation

ELKHART — Details about the final phase of Elkhart’s River District Revitalization are ready for public review.

Mayor Tim Neese is inviting the community to take part in an exclusive presentation of the city’s final River District Revitalization Plan at the Lerner Theatre at 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 26.

The presentation will outline projects aimed at creating a more walkable, residential downtown destination, according to the press release from the city announcing the presentation.

The River District area consists of a 105-acre peninsula bounded by the St. Joseph River, Elkhart River and the railroad tracks east of Prairie Street and Johnson Street. Efforts to revitalize this area are part of the City’s overall economic development strategy to attract new residents. Currently, the number of job openings in the City outnumber the available workers. This unique dilemma has prompted city officials to think outside the box and make strategic financial investments in a bold vision for the future.

“Economic development is no longer just about attracting business; it is about attracting people,” Neese said. “As seniors and millennials gravitate towards urban, mixeduse communities where they can be close to shops, restaurants and other amenities, the successful communities of the future will be successful because they create a community where people want to call home.”

Joining Neese are presenters Jeff Speck and Casey Steinbacher.

Speck is a city planner and urban designer who, through writing, lectures, and built work, advocates internationally for more walkable cities. As Director of Design at the National Endowment for the Arts from 2003 through 2007, he oversaw the Mayors’ Institute on City Design and created the Governors’ Institute on Community Design, a federal program that helps state governors fight suburban sprawl. Prior to joining the Endowment, Speck spent 10 years as Director of Town Planning at Duany Plater-Zyberk and Co., a leading practitioner of the New Urbanism, where he led or managed more than 40 of the firm’s projects. He is the co-author of Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream as well as The Smart Growth Manual. His recent book, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time – which the Christian Science Monitor called “timely and important, a delightful, insightful, irreverent work” – was the best-selling planning/design title of 2013 – 2015. Steinbacher, Founder of Casey’s Company, is widelyrecognized as a national expert in urban innovation strategies or as she likes to say ... “Teaching the World Why Coolness Matters” ... Her company identifies and creates NEXT opportunities for communities and organizations,with a unique emphasis on place based talentrecruitment. She is credited with authoring the strategy that targeted entrepreneurs and millennials as key components for the place

based renaissance of downtown Durham, North Carolina that CNN just named the start up capital of the south. She boasts an eclectic list of clients and projects.

Prior to founding her own company, Casey served as President and CEO of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce from 2007 until 2015. Under her direction, the Durham Chamber received national and international acclaim for its leadership in economic and entrepreneurial development, winning the award for the Best Innovative Economic Development Project at the World Chambers Congress in Doha, Qatar, in 2013. Durham experienced over $5 billion in announced new investment that created more than 20,000 jobs during her tenure, including the birth and rapid growth of an entrepreneurial eco-system that is now considered one of the most vibrant in the South.

The final plan details, which will be unveiled on April 26, are the product of over two years of planning and collaboration. Multiple public presentations have been held to generate awareness and community feedback.

“The City has worked with professionals from across the country, including Jeff Speck, to develop a plan that we believe will take Elkhart forward,” said City of Elkhart Communications Director Courtney Bearsch. “What the public will see on Thursday is the culmination of all of this feedback and expertise put into one final master plan.

The East Jackson Boulevard streetscape is part of the River District Plan, Bearsch confirmed. “The River District plan is about creating a walkable urban environment, so the new streetscape will be more pedestrian-friendly and will include additional lighting and signals as well as landscaping,” she said.

“Really we won’t have anything like this in the region,” said David Weaver, Chair of the River District Implementation Team (RDIT), said in an exclusive interview with the Elkhart Truth earlier this year. “We see this as a regional destination.”

Redevelopment of this area includes the ongoing construction of the Elkhart Health Fitness Aquatics and Community Center and construction of Stonewater at the Riverwalk, a residential development headed by developer Flaherty and Collins.

Overall, the plan is to add roughly 1,000 new homes to downtown Elkhart, which include townhomes and apartments, the result of a market analysis that found some 28,000 individuals choose to work in Elkhart each day but do not call the city home, as reported previously in the Elkhart Truth.


To learn more and to RSVP, please visit

Official groundbreaking set for River District Streetscape Project

ELKHART (March 5, 2018) – Elkhart Mayor Tim Neese, along with project planning, design and construction officials, is hosting a groundbreaking ceremony for the River District Streetscape Project on Jackson Boulevard and Elkhart Avenue. The event is set for Thursday, March 8 at 9:00 a.m. near the intersection of Jackson Boulevard and Elkhart Avenue. Public attendance is welcome and encouraged.

The project consists of a completely reconstructed streetscape, from sidewalk to sidewalk, on Jackson Boulevard and Elkhart Avenue, including a new divided boulevard on Jackson, new and buried utilities, on-street parking, bicycle paths, street lighting, signals, and landscaping.  The revitalization is the first part of the City’s effort to redevelop the area known as the River District.  This project will complement new exciting investments and private development already taking place in the area, including the Elkhart Health Fitness and Aquatic Center and Stonewater at the Riverwalk.

Construction will begin the second week of March, with the closure of Jackson Boulevard from Waterfall Drive to Junior Achievement Drive, including the Elkhart Avenue intersection.  The project will be constructed in two phases, with anticipated final completion at the end of 2018.

For more information on the project, please contact Tory Irwin at the Department of Public Works Engineering Department at 293-2572 or visit the city website at

Hundreds gather at Lerner Theatre to learn more about the Elkhart River District Revitalization Plan

ELKHART (January 18, 2018) – Over 300 community members filled the Lerner Theatre’s Crystal Ballroom last Thursday to learn more about the city’s plans to revitalize the Elkhart River District. The vision behind these efforts is to develop a vibrant urban space that complements existing Main Street assets and creates a destination where people want to live.

During the 90-minute presentation, guests heard from local leaders – including Mayor Tim Neese – members of the River District Implementation Team (RDIT) as well as nationally recognized professionals in residential market analysis and urban planning. The speakers used local data and national trends to assert the need to develop a walkable, urban city core that starts with residential development.

The event also offered an opportunity for the public to ask questions and provide feedback on preliminary plans and renderings. Several residents expressed a desire to see bike racks, public restrooms, and green spaces for families and pets incorporated in the design. These suggestions, in addition to parking and traffic needs, are being considered as part of the final plan.

The overall project calls for over $200 million in new development over the next five years. Individual discussions have already taken place between the RDIT and all effected property owners in the area. This is an aggressive redevelopment plan, which the RDIT believes can be completed in large part by local developers and investors. Anyone interested in investment opportunities in the River District are encouraged to contact Shelley Moore, RDIT Project Lead, at 574-970-1322.

The RDIT will continue to modify and enhance the River District Master Plan over the coming months. A subsequent presentation to unveil the final plan is anticipated in April. To stay up to date on the latest news, visit and like Elkhart River District on Facebook.

Destination Downtown Elkhart: Public invited to first glimpse of River District Revitalization Plan

ELKHART (January 5, 2018) – Mayor Tim Neese is inviting members of the community to take part in an exclusive preview of the city’s River District Implementation Plan. The presentation will occur at the Lerner Theatre at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, January 11 and will outline specific projects aimed at creating a more walkable, residential downtown destination.

The River District area consists of a 105-acre peninsula bounded by the St. Joseph River, Elkhart River and the railroad tracks east of Prairie Street and Johnson Street. The River District Implementation Team, comprised of qualified professionals from both the public and private sector, was established in August 2017 to develop a master implementation plan. Anchor projects already underway in this area include the aquatics center and the Stonewater at the Riverwalk residential development by Flaherty and Collins.

Public and private investment will be necessary to complete this transformation. The city’s investment will fund capital projects such as a streetscape along Jackson Boulevard from Main to Johnson Street and enhancement of the Elkhart River to promote recreational use of this waterway. The plan is designed to complement existing Main Street assets and foster additional economic development in the heart of the city.

The public event will include presentations by the River District Implementation Team, urban planners Jeff Speck and David Dixon as well as residential market analyst Laurie Volk. This will provide an opportunity for the public to learn more about the downtown redevelopment efforts, why they are important and how they will be accomplished. A final plan will be presented to the community this spring and will incorporate feedback generated during the day’s series of events with district stakeholders.

To learn more and to RSVP, please visit


Note to the press: Below is a complete list of speaker bios.

Residential Market Analyst: Laurie Volk

Laurie Volk is principal in charge of Zimmerman/Volk Associates' market studies and is the firm's primary analyst of demographic, market, and lifestyle trends. Volk's development of the target market methodology-analytical tools to determine the market potential for downtown housing; for mixed-income, mixed-tenure repopulation and stabilization of fragile inner-city neighborhoods, and for new mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented traditional neighborhoods-has been instrumental in bringing Zimmerman/Volk Associates into national prominence. Volk has conducted more than 65 downtown studies across the country, in cities ranging in size from Petersburg, Virginia (population 32,400) to Detroit, Michigan (population 713,000).

Urban Planners: David Dixon and Jeff Speck

David Dixon FAIA is Stantec’s Urban Places Planning and Urban Design Leader. He has led significant initiatives across North America to help cities and suburbs alike create a new generation of walkable urban places that help these communities adapt to the accelerating pace of demographic, social and economic change. David has been honored for his post-Katrina Master Plan for New Orleans and many other projects by the American Planning Association, the American Institute of Architects, the Congress for New Urbanism, and other national organizations. He received the AIA’s highest honor for achievement in the public sphere, the Thomas Jefferson Award and Residential Architecture named David as the recipient of its 2012 Hall of Fame Award “as the person we call about cities.” David co-authored Urban Design for an Urban Century: Shaping More Livable, Equitable, and Resilient Cities (Wiley, 2014). He is the co-editor and one of the authors for Suburban Remix: the next generation of urban places, which will be published by Island Press in January, 2018.

Jeff Speck AICP, CNU-A, LEED-AP, Honorary ASLA is a city planner and urban designer who advocates internationally for more walkable cities. As Director of Design at the National Endowment for the Arts from 2003 through 2007, he presided over the Mayors' Institute on City Design and created the Governors' Institute on Community Design. Prior to his federal appointment, Mr. Speck spent ten years as Director of Town Planning at DPZ & Co., the principal firm behind the New Urbanism movement. Since 2007, he has led Speck & Associates, a boutique planning firm that specializes in making American downtowns thrive.

With Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Mr. Speck is the co-author of The Smart-Growth Manual and the “modern classic” Suburban Nation, which the Wall Street Journal calls "the urbanist's bible.” His latest book, Walkable City–which the Christian Science Monitor calls “timely and important, a delightful, insightful, irreverent work” –was the best selling city-planning book of 2013-16.


Elkhart target market potential analysis

Excerpt from Zimmerman/Volk Associates Elkhart Residential Analysis, September 2017

American households have been changing dramatically over the past several years, in ways that should enhance the effort to support the development of the Downtown Elkhart Study Area. The significant transformation of American households (particularly shrinking household size and the predominance of one- and two-person households) over the past decade, combined with steadily increasing traffic congestion and fluctuating gasoline prices, has resulted in important changes in neighborhood and housing preferences, with major shifts from predominantly single-family detached houses in lower-density suburbs to higher-density apartments, townhouses, and detached houses in urban and mixed-use neighborhoods. This fundamental transformation of American households is likely to continue for at least the next decade.

This transformation has been driven by the convergence of the preferences of the two largest
generations in the history of America: the Baby Boomers (currently estimated at 73.8 million), born between 1946 and 1964, and the estimated 88.7 million Millennials, who were born from 1977 to 1996 and, in 2010, surpassed the Boomers in population. The convergence of two generations of this size—simultaneously reaching a point when urban housing matches their lifestage—is unprecedented.

In addition to their shared preference for urban living, the Boomers and Millennials are changing housing markets in multiple ways. In contrast to the traditional family (married couples with children) that comprised the typical post-war American household, Boomers and Millennials are households of predominantly singles and couples. As a result, the 21st Century home-buying market now contains more than 63 percent one- and two-person households, and the 37 percent of homebuyers that could be categorized as family households are equally likely to be non-traditional as traditional families. A major consequence of this evolution is that urban mixed-use development, particularly in close proximity to transit, is now the preference for many more households than when families and suburban single-use preferences dominated the housing market.

Another significant shift is the Millennials’ strong propensity for renting rather than owning. This is due in part because of their relative youth—many do not have sufficient funds for a down payment and many others are burdened by student debt—and in part because the collapse of the housing market made many of them skeptical about the value of owning versus renting.

As determined by the target market analysis, and reflecting national trends, the annual potential market—represented by lifestage—for new housing units in Downtown Elkhart is characterized by general household type. 

At 70 percent, younger singles and couples make up the largest share of the market for new housing in Downtown Elkhart. Additional factors in the larger share of the market held by younger households are:

  • Their higher mobility rates—young people tend to move much more frequently than older people;
  • Their strong preference for urban apartments, particularly lofts;
  • The reduced mobility of older singles and couples because of their inability, or reluctance, to sell their existing units; and
  • The fact that, outside of cities like New York, Chicago, or San Francisco, downtown dwelling units are rarely the choice of traditional families, in large part because of concerns about school quality, and the lack of private outdoor space in which their children can play unsupervised.

This younger market includes white-collar office workers—Fast-Track Professionals, The VIPs, and Cosmopolitan Elite; artists and artisans—the New Bohemians; and recent college graduates just starting their work lives—Suburban Achievers, Small-City Singles, and Surburban Strivers.

Almost 68 percent of the younger singles and couples that represent the market for new higher-density housing units in the Study Area would be moving from elsewhere in the city; just under nine percent would be moving from elsewhere in Elkhart County; another 6.4 percent from St. Joseph, Kosciusko and LaGrange Counties, Indiana, as well as Cass County, Michigan; and approximately 11 percent would be moving from elsewhere in the United States.

The next largest general market segment, at 20 percent of the annual potential market for new
higher-density units in the Study Area, is comprised of older households (empty nesters and retirees).

Most of these households have adult children who no longer live in the family home; many are
enthusiastic participants in community life and most are still actively involved in well-paying careers in the banking, legal and financial professions. These target groups range from the well-to-do Mainstream Empty Nesters, and including the middle-class Blue-Collar Retirees and Middle-American Retirees, to the most affluent Small-Town Patriarchs.

Over 64 percent of the empty nesters and retirees would be moving from elsewhere within the City of Elkhart; approximately 17 percent would be moving from another location in Elkhart County; just over four percent are currently living in St. Joseph, Kosciusko or LaGrange Counties, Indiana, or Cass County, Michigan; and the remaining 14 percent would be moving from elsewhere in the U.S.

Family-oriented households represent just nine percent of the market for new dwelling units in the Downtown Elkhart Study Area. Households with children are now increasingly diverse and in many urban areas are largely non-traditional families. Heads of these households have upper-middle management jobs, or work in the financial and legal sectors. These households include Uptown Families, Multi-Ethnic Families, Late-Nest Suburbanites, and Full-Nest Suburbanites.

Just under 74 percent of the family households are already living in the City of Elkhart, just under ten percent are currently living elsewhere in Elkhart County, 2.4 percent would be moving from St. Joseph, Kosciusko or LaGrange Counties, Indiana, or Cass County, Michigan, and the remaining 14 would be moving from elsewhere in the U.S.

>>Click here to read the full study