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For people who crave the excitement, amenities and nightlife of urban living, downtown South Bend offers myriad housing options to suit any taste and fit any budget. Here’s a selection:
American Trust Place
101 North Michigan Street
Every time Brad Toothaker thought about the American Trust & Bank Building at what had once been South Bend’s busiest intersection, it nagged at him.
Built in 1924 and designated a national historic landmark in 1985, the building had stood for years occupied by a crowded assortment of small retail shops that did little to showcase the building’s grandeur.
“It bothered me,” says Toothaker, president of CB Richard Ellis/Bradley. “It wasn’t properly cared for. It wasn’t properly used. It was highly underutilized and highly conspicuous.”
So in 2006, he unveiled an ambitious plan: a $7.5-million renovation of the existing structure into a mixed-use complex for office, residential and commercial space. Renamed American Trust Place, it would serve as a one-of-a-kind anchor for people to live, work and enjoy the nightlife of downtown South Bend.
It was an intensive project requiring meticulous attention to detail and the disappearing skills of historic restoration artisans. For example, the ornate plasterwork on the high vaulted ceilings had sustained extensive damage over decades of maladaptive use.
Although low-cost alternatives might have saved time and money, Toothaker instead hired a skilled craftsman to painstakingly re-sculpt every section of the damaged plasterwork to its original profile.
In addition, all new structural work is of the highest quality commercial-grade construction. Such structures include:
• High-grade heating and cooling systems
• Individually controlled thermostats and zones
• Reinforced structural elements to withstand modern mechanical loads
• High-level security and communications
• ADA accessibility
The City of South Bend’s Redevelopment Commission provided $800,000 to support the exterior façade renovation and help enhance the project’s viability.
“It’s a genuinely urban environment, and it’s the only truly commercial-grade, mixed-use, high-end development,” Toothaker says. “You can walk downstairs and go out to eat. You can find all the amenities you want, such as banks and a vibrant nightlife. And you save energy because you can walk to all of them. You can walk to work.”
Phase I is complete, and already several residents have moved in. Phase II, which will commence in 2012, will consist of a residential tower containing 40 to 50 units. Standing eight stories tall, it will be located at the back end of the building and will contain a rooftop garden and other amenities.
Central High School and Stephenson Mills Apartments
330 West Colfax Avenue
322 East Colfax Avenue
A gymnasium still bears the original painted floor lines at Central High School Apartments. One unit features a sunken living room, the remnant of an indoor pool with depth markings intact. Some of the original chalkboards are still attached to living room walls, as if still awaiting the next sentence to be diagrammed.
A few blocks down the street, exposed brickwork and pipes at Stephenson Mills Apartments bear testimony to the heavy industry that took place inside the former garment manufacturer’s building.
At Central High, each of the 106 floor plans is unique, taking advantage of the original space. At Stephenson Mills, 10 different floor plans are spread out among the 39 units.
“Our demographic is a great mix, including single families, professors and retirees,” says Central High assistant property manager Cheryl Anderson, who has lived there since April 2008.
“People are attracted to the historical aspects and the uniqueness of the buildings. When they live here, they tend to stay a while.”
East Bank Townhomes
350 East Colfax Avenue
“Best view in South Bend,” says Dave Matthews from atop the mound of fill dirt that elevates by a good 17 feet the former Rink Riverside Printing site (north of Colfax Avenue on the East Bank of the St. Joseph River).
That view encompasses an unobstructed 360-degree streetscape view of the following:
• the waterfall at Century Center thundering over its dam
• the Mark di Suvero sculpture standing guard against the backdrop of the soaring Century Center atrium
• the glittering Morris Performing Arts Center
• the St. Joseph River and walkway
• the historic Commerce Center and Stephenson Mills buildings.
The 0.83-acre site was acquired by the Redevelopment Commission and cleared in 2005 after Rink moved to a new location. Matthews purchased the land from the City for $10,000.
“The City gave us a good deal on land, and we’ll pass that on to the buyer,” Matthews says. “Within five years, we expect the development to generate some $100,000 annually in tax income. That revenue will stay in the community because we’re a local builder.”
For his East Bank Townhomes, Matthews has conceived a design that will allow every tenant that exact same view by staggering corner windows so that no one’s view is blocked. The 10 townhouse-style condominiums, with prices starting at $170,000, will range in size from 1,700 to 3,500 square feet.
Customizable floor plans, finishes and exteriors will allow each buyer to design a distinctive, one-of-a-kind home. The brick-and-stone exterior design harmonizes well with the major structures already in place.
Bringing such an expansive vision to reality will require generous amounts of time, effort and something Matthews identifies as “heart,” but that should pose no problem for him. He’s got heart by the truckload.
He prefers to put it another way. “I need to be doing stuff,” he says simply.
His belief in the ultimate success of his vision is equally simple. He expects that the presence of upscale housing will inevitably transform the character of the area.
“Business will follow the people,” he says – and that will attract the financial resources that will bring about economic vigor.