GOSHEN — An expansive template for how best to redevelop the four-block area of downtown Goshen known as the Downtown River District was officially adopted Tuesday by the Goshen Redevelopment Commission.
At the meeting, commission members approved the adoption of a Downtown River District Revitalization Plan submitted by Elkhart-based consulting firm Jones Petrie Rafinski. The firm was hired by the commission back in September 2020 to craft the plan at a cost of $75,000.
According to Becky Hutsell, redevelopment director for the city, the plan encompasses approximately four city blocks and includes the area west of Third Street, north of Lincoln Avenue, south of Pike Street and east of the river.
Hutsell noted that there are three vacant lots located within the target area that she feels are primed for redevelopment, one of which includes the former Elkhart County jail property.
In addition to the former jail site, there is also an area of vacant land located on West Lincoln Avenue, near the river, as well as the site of a former dry-cleaner located west of Pleasant Avenue and Pike Street.
With their hiring back in September, JPR was tasked with crafting an overall vision for the four-block area’s future development by helping to identify catalytic projects, explore what the city’s market can support, etc.
“In summary, it’s an overall planning document which will help guide the four blocks,” Hutsell said of the plan. “We are asking that the commission adopt this plan. It commits us to no specific project. It commits no funding, per say, at this point in time. But, it will allow us to identify projects going forward that move us in the right direction for this area.”
Commission member Tom Stump, who also holds a seat on the Elkhart County Council, noted following Hutsell’s summary that some of his colleagues within Elkhart County government recently mentioned they’d felt caught off guard by the formulation of the plan, particularly given that much of the land included within the Downtown River District is owned by the county.
In response, Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman, who served as a member of the planning committee which helped guide the crafting of the new plan, explained that county leadership had been included in discussions regarding the plan’s formulation since talks began back in mid-2020.
“Last year when this process started, commissioners (Mike) Yoder and (Suzanne) Weirick were aware that we were looking at this,” Stutsman told the commission. “And we actually, before we even issued the RFP, we asked them if the county wanted to be part of the RFP for their property. The answer was yes. They said, ‘Would we have to pay?’ And we said, ‘No, we’re going to pay for this plan. We just want to look at that property since it’s in the downtown area as well.’ ... We did work hard to include the county from the beginning.”
For his part, commission member Vince Turner reiterated Hutsell’s point that the plan is just that — a plan — and does not actually require any kind of commitment for development by either the city or the county.
“I think what Becky pointed out is pretty important to keep in mind,” Turner said. “This is a template for a plan. In my mind, it’s like the Ball State study from years ago, and other studies that we’ve seen for the millrace and other sections of the downtown, or other sections of the city. This is a recommendation that we have, it’s a template, so we can mix and match. And certainly nothing is going to happen right away given the price tags on some of these things. But it does at least give us a guiding point to work from.”
In the end, a majority of the commission’s members agreed, and a motion was passed in a vote of 4-1 in favor to approve the adoption of JPR’s Downtown River District Revitalization Plan.
Voting for the plan were commission members Turner, Andrea Johnson, Brian Garber and Brett Weddell. Stump’s was the sole “No” vote.
THE REVITALIZATION PLAN
According to the River District Planning Committee, the new plan identifies eight principles, 11 recommendations and multiple capitol improvement projects aimed at enhancing and celebrating Goshen’s downtown character and providing a connection from downtown to the Elkhart River.
“Principles are the statements of intent for the preferred character of the River District,” the plan notes. “Recommendations are ideas that aim to physically transform and implement those principles. Some recommendations are items that can be immediately implemented in the short-term while others are long term objectives or ways to go about development.”
A breakdown of the eight principles outline in the plan include: an integrated mix of uses both horizontally and vertically; diversity of users and residents; high quality design of both public and private spaces that exemplify place-making; walkable, urban, and connected developments; provide abundant access to waterways, trails, and open space; safe and attractive connections to downtown and adjacent neighborhoods; environmental sustainability through the use of green infrastructure and by highlighting the Elkhart River; and establish a cultural connection.
A breakdown of the 11 recommendations outline in the plan are as follows: leverage riverfront investment; establish pedestrian pathways and crossings; create exceptional access to waterways; facilitate strategic housing choices; wayfinding and downtown connectivity; prepare appropriate development regulations; strengthen the supportive street network; provide attractive greenspaces; establish standards for green infrastructure and environmentally friendly solutions; allow for and encourage fun and creative place making; and identify and initiate early catalyst redevelopment projects.
As for the multiple capital projects outlined in the plan, those are broken down into three phases, with Phase 1 representing the first three years following the plan’s implementation, Phase 2 representing years four to 10, and Phase 3 representing years 10 to 20. A breakdown of the suggested capital projects includes:
• Lincoln Avenue Improvements: Improve streetscape conditions — $1.4 million
• Maple City Greenway Extension: Extend Maple City Greenway across Lincoln Avenue and connect to Pike Street — $800,000
• Second Street Improvements: Improve streetscape conditions — $1.4 million
• Lincoln Avenue Commercial Center: Develop a commercial area along Lincoln Avenue — Cost TBD
• Way Finding: Expand the downtown Goshen brand into the River District and incorporate way-finding — Cost TBD
• Third Street Mixed-Use Development: Develop mixed-use buildings with parking — Cost TBD
• New Street Improvements: Improvements to existing roadway to widen road, replace existing sidewalks, and incorporate new parallel parking — $950,000
• New Street Town Home Community: Develop a residential town home complex — Cost TBD
• Second Street Residential Complex: Develop a three-story high density residential building with below ground parking — Cost TBD
• Clinton Street Improvements: Improve streetscape conditions — $950,000
• Single Family Infill Housing Program: Add two single family residential units; one along New Street and one along Second Street — $500,000
• Third Street Improvements: Improve Streetscape Conditions — $700,000
• Second Street Mixed-Use Development: Mixed-use development with parking — Cost TBD
• Pike Street Improvements: Improve Streetscape Conditions — $500,000
• Pike Street Commercial Development: Commercial complex with parking — Cost TBD
• Senior Developments: Work with investors to develop residential units specifically designed for seniors — Cost TBD
• Arts and Culture: Program the ability to employ local artisans to populate the district with art — Cost TBD