- Associated Press - Monday, April 21, 2014

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - As a boy growing up on the west side, Jerry Niezgodski recalls riding his bike from his home near LaSalle High School, down Lincoln Way West to the Dairy Queen near Lincoln Way and Allen Street.

At the time, Lincoln Way West remained a major commercial corridor in the city. Businesses thrived, and the surrounding neighborhoods benefited. Crime was low, and the scourge of vacant and abndoned housing had not yet become a major problem.

Fifty years later, LaSalle is a high school no more, Dairy Queen is closed and Lincoln Way West is, by most measures, among the most blighted corridors in the city, marked by crumbling streets and sidewalks and large numbers of vacant and abandoned properties.

“You can basically say it went from pretty much the grand entrance to the city to its current state, which is less than ideal,” Niezgodski told the South Bend Tribune (http://bit.ly/1i7gCB4 ) of the street, which stretches about two miles from Bendix Drive to LaSalle Street downtown.

But that could be about to change.

In an effort to revitalize both Lincoln Way West and Western Avenue, Mayor Pete Buttigieg last year set aside about $2 million in the current budget to develop a comprehensive master plan for the two corridors.

To oversee the process, the city has assembled an advisory committee consisting of various stakeholders — residents, business and community leaders, elected officials — including Niezgodski, who chairs the Lincoln Way West Gateway Association.

“I’m sure there are people who, no matter what this administration or any administration does will be suspicious or question it,” Niezgodski said. “But the fact this administration is reaching out to stakeholders of all different backgrounds … and being logical in its approach to this, stating up front that it will be a multiyear project, with that understanding, I am truly optimistic. It’s just a matter of time.”

To serve as a foundation for future planning decisions along the two corridors, the city, in partnership with the Urban Enterprise Association, has hired the consulting firm of Torti Gallas and Partners of Washington, D.C., to conduct a market study at a cost of about $160,000.

The study is intended to provide data on current and projected supply and demand for residential, commercial and industrial uses along the corridors, and to help determine the proper types, density and location of uses in the final plan, which is expected sometime before the end of the summer.

“The … strategy we have is sort of a data-driven plan, a land-use plan driven by economic analysis,” Scott Ford, the city’s executive director of Community Investment, said.

“In many ways, the west side is the heart of South Bend,” Ford added, “and some of those areas have been without a plan for a long time.”

Input from residents also is being collected via CityVoice, a location-based call-in system for collecting, sharing and understanding community feedback.

And two public planning workshops — one for Lincoln Way and one for Western — are set for later this week, on Wednesday.

“We need to raise the bar,” Niezgodski said. “We cannot have more of the same. … We need higher-quality housing, higher-quality investment, and we can’t just assume it’s all for social services or things of that nature, government stuff.

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