Lerner Could Gain Larger Role in Downtown Elkhart Recreation

July 10, 2013

Lerner Theatre’s governing board appears to be on the verge of embracing a bigger role in downtown entertainment.

Coinciding with plans developed by SoMa, the Lerner could soon have a hand in overseeing outdoor public entertainment activities downtown.

How that meshes with the Elkhart Jazz Festival and plans to establish a SoMa organizational group remains undecided, according to Diana Lawson, a member of the Lerner board who has overseen the SoMa study plan.

If Mayor Dick Moore, the Lerner board and redevelopment commission are all agreeable, officials at the Lerner would accept more responsibility in implementing the SoMa plan related to outdoor recreation in the downtown area, Lawson said.

The Lerner governing board “could” potentially have a bigger role in the jazz festival and other activities if public money is involved, Lawson said.

She said officials still need to sort out the roles and responsibilities of the boards.

“A business plan is certainly on the horizon for what happens next,” Lawson told the Lerner board Wednesday.

Possible changes coincide with the upcoming adoption of the SoMa strategy, which has been developed through work with a consultant, surveys and community input. It is a wide-ranging plan that addresses numerous issues related to enhancing the downtown.

SoMa is a downtown revitalization effort that began about two years ago.

Lawson said the Lerner has become a catalyst for the downtown and the arts and entertainment district and that an expanded role for overseeing recreational activities in the downtown seems “reasonable,” Lawson said.

The tentative SoMa draft plan, released in May, called for a coordinated effort for outdoor recreational activities.

The plan proposes public events be coordinated by the SoMa management organization to maximize efficiencies. Those tasks should include scheduling, promoting and financing, among other things.

“Once Civic Plaza and Central Park have been improved, they will be the part of the A&E District and will require event coordination on an on-going basis,” the report said.

The existing “lack of coordination between organizations, events and businesses stifles opportunities for cross promotional activities and can lead to volunteer and donor fatigue,” the report said.

Involvement in entertainment activities outside of the Lerner would not be a huge step because some of the staff have already been heavily involved in planning the jazz festival and ArtWalk in the past year or so.

Since opening two years ago, the Lerner has become a key part of the jazz festival.

The SoMa plan entails an organizational change in which Downtown Elkhart Inc. would focus on assisting and improving downtown businesses and housing and relinquish its role with the jazz festival.

The changes are in step with the mantra of SoMa, which has cast its vision for the downtown into three categories: Live, work and play.

DEI will become more involved in working to assist businesses and residential property development, which represents the “live and work” aspects, while the future Soma organization would focus on recreational efforts tied to the downtown.

The redevelopment commission is expected to vote on adopting the SoMa plan within a few weeks.

Representatives of the redevelopment commission are seeking to have a joint meeting with representatives of the Lerner board to discuss details. The meeting is expected to happen toward the end of July.