By SCOTT WEISSER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
One recent morning, Brad Hunsberger took a walk through part of Goshen’s past. He was talking about the future.
Hunsberger, vice president of real estate development with LaCasa Inc., was giving a reporter a tour of the former Hawks furniture building on the east side of the millrace. The structure has been empty and idle for several years now. Suffice it to say the Hawks shows signs of disuse.
The LaCasa organization has ambitious plans for the Hawks building, though, and those goals are in keeping with a theme of repurposing a stretch of the River Race area.
LaCasa, the Goshen Redevelopment Commission and private developers are key players in revitalizing the area. The new reality? New housing near downtown in the Maple City.
The Hawks building
The Hawks furniture building dates back to the 1860s, in Hunsberger’s estimation. The structure’s origin ties in to when the millrace itself was built.
“It was the power for the building,” Hunsberger said. The main floor was used for manufacturing up through 2003 or 2004, he said. Frederick Tool was the last business entity to operate out of it.
LaCasa saw potential in the building, and of so much square footage so close to downtown. That group’s plan is to repurpose the Hawks into living/work space for artists and entrepreneurs.
“LaCasa will be building out with 35 apartments on the south section of the building,” Hunsberger said. Those one- and two-bedroom units will be on all three floors of the Hawks.
“The units will be laid out and designed to accommodate the apartment unit for artist workspace,” Hunsberger said. “That will be a very loft-style look. The exposed ceilings and framework will be left exposed.”
The Hawks is still under the ownership of the Redevelopment Commission. LaCasa anticipates closing on the property in late March or early April. Hunsberger said LaCasa is working with DJ Construction to finalize the full construction contract, and also with the various subcontractors. Occupancy is expected to start in March 2015.
“It’s going to be about an 11- or 12-month process,” Hunsberger said.
Goshen is emerging as an arts center, in Hunsberger’s view. The plan for the Hawks building fits in with that trend.
“It feels like it’s the right time,” Hunsberger said of the project. “Our market studies show it will support it. And we’re going to start marketing it here shortly.”
New look, new life
A 2005 Ball State study was key to establishing the vision of what the River Race area could become.
“And residential was the major component of how people who participated in that process viewed the area developing,” said Goshen Community Development Director Mark Brinson. “That’s really where the direction for this development started
“It was really difficult for people to have a picture of what the area could be, and Ball State really helped create that vision,” he continued. “That really kind of became the magnet for drawing attention to the area and getting the whole process started.”
The River Race corridor consists of around 22 acres starting with the former Northern Indiana Public Service Co. property behind Interra Credit Union. It extends along the west side of the millrace basically down to Shanklin Park, and encompasses the former Goshen Street Department property. On the east side of the millrace, the corridor extends from the Hawks building south to Douglas Street.
The redevelopment area included nine different “brownfield” properties. For the curious, a brownfield is a former commercial or industrial property that may or may not have the potential for contamination.
Brinson said there was a long process of acquiring and then assessing the properties, “which means researching the history of what kind of activities were going on there.” Soil samples and groundwater testing were involved. Then there was clean-up/remediation work to be done.
Becky Hershberger, Goshen’s brownfield coordinator, said every dollar city officials spent during the redevelopment and remediation process was essentially matched with $4 from other funding sources.
“So we’ve done really well with leveraging the funds to make it possible,” she said. “... I think we’re the only community in Indiana that’s ever ventured to address this many properties at once.”
According to Brinson, the process had to be far enough along to convince a developer that enough obstacles had been removed to make property feasible to develop.
“It’s very difficult for a private developer to come and pay the cost associated with clean-up,” Hershberger said. “They have the option of going to some greenfield or uncontaminated property and having none of these hurdles, or taking a risk on this. We have the location on our side. They’re great spots to develop, but there’s a lot of hurdles.”
Two developers — Matthews LLC of South Bend and Richard Miller Construction Inc. of Goshen — see opportunity.
Brinson said two styles of residential development are planned south of the Hawks on the east side of the millrace. Both development groups plan to break ground this year, he said.
Single-family homes will be built on the southern portion of that new housing area, with townhomes and flats on the northern part. Richard Miller Construction, as part of the Millrace Neighborhood group, is developing the former and Matthews LLC the latter. A park area will be between those housing projects and the Hawks.
The new developments will have different looks. That said, their developers have a similar goal of building a sense of community.
“Across the country the biggest demographic in America right now is the millenials, and the second largest are the Baby Boomers,” said David Matthews of Matthews LLC. “And both are transitioning into urban housing and away from suburban life.”
There’s an opportunity in Goshen to be part of this national trend, according to Matthews. People can have the opportunity to be in a more community-focused neighborhood — they can walk to shop, eat and maybe work.
“When you’re walking, that gives you the opportunity to interact with people you wouldn’t necessarily call up and have a conversation with,” Matthews said. “But you can build that familiarity by having those chance encounters if you’re living in a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere. That’s what we look to be a part of.”
For his part, Miller is looking ahead to a co-housing community — a neighborhood where people want to be neighbors, he said. The idea is to foster interaction. “Cottage housing,” basically single-family homes surrounding a courtyard area, will be the theme. The parcel runs from Douglas to Purl streets.
Miller said the homes will be designed to be energy-efficient, and wheelchair-accessible without the use of an elevator. Within parameters, they’ll be designed to client specifications.
Plans also call for a common house or community building. The mailboxes will be placed there “so that we have people walking through the community at least once a day,” Miller said.
Ten people have already put down deposits for housing in the parcel.
“It’s showing me there are people who want an old-time neighborly community,” Miller said. “... People who are interested in living in a community where people are mixing.”
A good mix
Brinson highlighted other initiatives in the River Race area. A South Bend company is looking to produce hydroelectricity on the powerhouse property at the millrace’s north end. Nearby, a brew pub is planned in the former NIPSCO building.
Brinson feels that in total, the River Race projects blend well.
“That’s what the attraction is of downtowns, and that’s why people gravitate toward urban areas,” he continued. “It’s because they’re not homogeneous. There’s a variety, there’s interest — every block is a little bit different and you can find new things and different activities.”
Hershberger indicated that much work needs to be done infrastructure-wise for the Hawks and the other housing projects.
“For this area, we need to extend all the water and sewer from Third Street over to the development area,” she said.
Also, the north-south alley to the west of Third Street will be made into a two-way road extending from Douglas Street to Jefferson Street. It will be named River Race Drive.
Hershberger termed the inner-city River Race redevelopment “traditional in-fill.” Brinson calls it “back to the future.”
“It is traditional urban development,” he said. “Traditional in terms of what we saw in urban cores 100 years ago. We’re not really doing anything new. We’re just kind of reviving the type of urban development that communities used to see. We’re creating that opportunity for developers to come in and (build) this housing.”
Brinson said there’s not a huge market for urban-style living, but it’s growing. He also said the millennial generation is very in tune with the urban lifestyle.
“And what we’re seeing in Goshen too, surprisingly, is a number of retired and empty-nester residents who want to downsize,” Brinson said. “They want to move out of the big house and get away from mowing the yard and shoveling driveways. But they don’t want to necessarily live in a retirement community or a suburban condominium development. They like the energy of the downtown and want to be a part of that scene.”
Hershberger said she thinks Goshen is unique in that it has such a large portion of land available for in-fill.
“To have 22 acres in the heart of downtown, next to the millrace,” she said. “...It was good planning that started long ago, and it’s finally coming to fruition.”