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By Phil D’Amico, director of business growth, The Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County
Greg Downes is the chairman and CEO of Gibson Insurance Group. Greg has been no stranger to being a leader in the City of South Bend. He is the past Board Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County, where he still remains an active board member. He is also in his fifth term as a commissioner for the South Bend Redevelopment Commission. I recently caught up with Greg for a one-on-one conversation to learn more about the Commission and its main goals and objectives.
Q: Life has been anything but boring for you, I would think?
Greg Downes, chairman and CEO of Gibson Insurance Group
A: Life has certainly been interesting. We never run out of things to do in our city.
Q: Being in your fifth term on the Redevelopment Commission, you have seen a lot of opportunities come before your group.
A: Yes we have, and I think all of the initiatives we have seen have shown a great intent to make this city better and to help it grow.
Q: What do you view as the main role of the South Bend Redevelopment Commission?
A: To look at and support those projects that will help our community advance forward. That said, we have an obligation to our citizens to be wise about where our tax increment financing (TIF) money gets allocated.
Q: I think our citizens have a misconception about TIF and what the funds get approved for. What should we really know about TIF money and how it gets distributed?
A: Tax increment financing means a portion of a given area’s taxes set aside for economic development projects. Really, TIF money can be approved, if the Commission sees the money going towards a project that will help spur economic growth for a specific area.
Q: What have been the biggest challenges in this area?
A: Two things really: 1. The property tax caps have made less money available in the TIF districts. 2. We are always challenged by the interpretation of what is a project that will spur economic development. That said, the South Bend Department of Community and Economic Development really does not have a budget. Its budget is TIF funds, and it relies on TIF money to spur development projects.
Q: Can you provide an example?
A: Sure. For instance, the new Ignition Park demolition and preparation would not totally have been possible without TIF money. The money went towards getting the land ready to be developed, where that money would not have been appropriated within the general budget. The general budget is targeted primarily toward public works and safety. Now, through TIF money, South Bend has a state-certified technology park, which is a huge selling point nationwide.
Q: What about the community side, does redevelopment ever get involved with residential districts?
A: Absolutely. For example, we also got involved and participated with the revitalization of the Northeast Neighborhood project, which helped redevelop neighborhoods near Notre Dame. That whole landscape has really changed, opening up new opportunities for the university to attract new professors, and for hospitals to attract new doctors.
Q: What’s on the horizon for the future? Where do you see our biggest opportunities moving forward for South Bend?
A: There is no question that further developing, growing and enhancing our relationship with Notre Dame will be a huge factor in community growth. Think about it, we have a wonderful resource there that can help grow Innovation Park and Ignition Park. Also, it is critical we continue to improve and develop our educational systems, with an emphasis on workforce readiness. When job opportunities arise, it will be critical to develop our local talent to fill those needs.
Q: So you have a lot on your plate?
A: I would say we all do, as the potential for this to city to see tremendous growth is very much possible. This is one of the most exciting times to be in the City of South Bend, if we all work toward a common goal and objective.