“The housing shortage is hurting our ability to fill jobs. It’s industry-wide, in the service industry, healthcare industry, RV industry, from entry-level all the way up.”
Mark Dobson, President of the Elkhart County Economic Development Corporation, gives us the lowdown on the Foundry project and what it means for Elkhart’s economy.
Why are you excited about the Foundry Apartments Project?
We want to be the type of community that attracts all types of folks. Housing options are very limited in Elkhart. The study Flaherty and Collins did showed that the city of Elkhart can support 850 apartments right now – this project will provide about 200 apartments.
Do we have a lack of housing in Elkhart?
We’re having a fairly significant housing shortage. Right now there are 400 active listings of houses for sale, with about 205 agents. It’s down to 1/3 of what it usually is – usually there are 1,200 properties on the market at any given time.
Where are you seeing this housing shortage play out?
The housing shortage is hurting our ability to fill jobs. There’s a lack of available places to house workers. It’s industry-wide, in the service industry, healthcare industry, RV industry, from entry-level all the way up.
The unmet demand for housing, all the jobs that haven’t been filled – that’s a sign that Elkhart County is doing well?
Yes, it is. Elkhart County has a highly robust economy – we have a 3.1% unemployment rate right now. 24/7 Wall Street did a study last year that ranked Elkhart County #1 in the state for job creation, and #10 in the United States. Right now, if you go on LinkedIn, you’ll see 2,000 job openings in Elkhart County alone – and the majority of those are white collar jobs.
What do you say to people who may not see the benefit of this project?
This is part of an overall aspirational plan for Elkhart – it’s part of the River District plan. Some people are concerned about the local funding component, and talk about having more focus on low income housing. The city has supported low income housing and will continue to support that. We know that this project will be self-sustaining, and that the property tax collected will substantially exceed the bonds.
“I’ve lived in Indy, Denver, Cincinnati and Louisville and I’ve seen this kind of investment really spur growth.”
We asked Chris Hooley, a real estate broker for Berkshire Hathaway on E. Bristol Street, to weigh in on proposed redevelopment efforts downtown
You’re a 4th generation Elkhart resident and real estate professional, what do you think about the latest apartment investment downtown?
We certainly need more housing – we’re at an all-time low for listings in Elkhart and an all-time high for apartment occupancy. If I were a few years younger I would certainly be interested in living in a community like this.
Is this in-line with housing trends you’ve been seeing?
We need more housing and both millennials and empty nesters are choosing apartments/condos over traditional housing. They’re looking for more than just a place to live. I’m on the talent retention committee for Regional Cities – we know that if we want to attract the next generation of business leaders and companies, we need to start by building places that will attract millennials.
I’ve lived in Indy, Denver, Cincinnati and Louisville and I’ve seen this kind of investment really spur growth. If we examine other cities around the U.S. that are growing and thriving, those cities are being strategic and deliberate in how they attract the next generation of leaders. A great example is how Austin, TX went from 200,000 (residents) in the early 1960s to 900,000 recently. That is not by accident.
But will these apartments stimulate growth for Elkhart?
In the past, millennials and empty nesters would have chosen South Bend or Mishawaka over Elkhart, but with this development and the other amenities in the area like the Lerner Theatre, the health, fitness and aquatics center, and expanded RiverWalk, I don’t think that will be true. I think we’re heading in the right direction, and this project is a great step forward.
“We believe in this project, and we are willing to invest $20 million-plus of our own money into this development.”
Meet the man behind efforts to transform vacant property in downtown Elkhart
Tell me about yourself
I’m Brian Prince, lead project developer for Flaherty & Collins Properties. My wife and I have an 8-month-old daughter named Ava and currently live north of Indianapolis in Noblesville, IN.
What are your ties to Elkhart?
My wife is Kristi Prince, daughter of Greg Lucchese. I have been spending a lot more time in Elkhart thanks to this project, and my wife gets to see more of her family. My wife’s family owns my two favorite restaurants in Elkhart: Lucchese’s and Bacon Hill Kitchen & Pub. My wife’s brothers opened Bacon Hill in 2015, and they have amazing burgers with bacon in the patties.
Tell me about this project
We’re building a $29 million mixed-use luxury apartment community in downtown Elkhart. It will be built on the former Elkhart Foundry site, located at 318 South Elkhart Ave. It will house approximately 200 urban flats and five specialty townhome units with an additional 7,000 square feet of retail space.
The apartment community will also have a yoga studio, yoga on the lawn, a heated pool, a resort level fitness center, outdoor grilling stations and seating areas with fire pits. Additional amenities will include a bark park, a pet wash, a rooftop amenity area, a demonstration kitchen in the amenity area with double ovens and full, high-end cooktops with ranges, and Wi-Fi throughout the building.
Is this what locals want?
I’ve heard from many people in the community that there was a lack of housing options in Elkhart that catered to the millennial and empty nester generations. My wife’s family is very, very large, and most of these comments came from her family and her friends who have good paying jobs, but have chosen to live in South Bend, Granger, Mishawaka, or Goshen because of a lack of housing options. Some of her family and friends live on the Michigan side of the border. When we have been in Elkhart and speaking at public meetings, the same demographic is sharing the same concerns: they want more housing options and they all believe that downtown Elkhart can be really cool if we can get more people downtown.
How do you know this is what Elkhart needs?
Flaherty & Collins did our own extensive market analysis, researching current market rents, occupancy, and area population. Then city staff and residents provided feedback at several public meetings hosted by the city.
We found that Elkhart was missing a housing option that offered the high-level amenities and walkability that you find in urban markets. Through our research, we found that Elkhart has a very high occupancy rate, with most properties around 97% occupied or higher. We also discovered that over 28,000 people commute into Elkhart County for work each day, but do not live in Elkhart County. This can be for a number of reasons, but a percentage of those individuals do not live in Elkhart because of the lack of housing options. We saw this as a great opportunity to fill a need, and to help Elkhart grow by bringing more of their millennials back and not losing them to other communities.
It will also bring new people to Elkhart. Our projects tend to see around 65-70% of the residents come from outside of the area versus people just moving from one apartment to another. This happens at almost every project we develop. We have seen this trend in Orland Park, IL at our project Ninety7Fifty on the Park. We have seen it at Oakley Station in Cincinnati.
What does this project mean for local businesses?
Having a better housing stock allows the city to compete against others for business. Employers have told us that they have a hard time attracting talent when the housing stock has not kept pace. They often tell us that their employees want to know where they will live, and what there is to do in the community. If there is an appealing housing option near shopping, restaurants, and entertainment, then that is an attractive feature when they are recruiting talent.
What went into the design for this apartment complex?
In terms of design, each project is planned with the resident in mind. None of our projects are cookie cutter, as each development we do is a collaboration and a public/private partnership. We want to help the city accomplish its goals.
We also attend conferences around the country that show us the latest trends in multifamily and what renters want. It also doesn’t hurt that we have a number of millennials that work for our company, including myself.
This is the first time you’ve designed a “Makers Room” for an apartment building. Why?
With this project, we believe we may have a higher concentration of empty nesters than we typically have in other developments. Empty nesters are used to space, and, their garages. With that in mind, we have incorporated concepts into the project that will allow our residents, who might be downsizing from a larger home with a lot of space, to feel at home and not restricted. We will be incorporating a new feature we have not done before: a “Makers Room.” This room will allow our residents to do arts and crafts, woodwork or paint, yet not be afraid to make a mess. Many people currently use their garage for this, so it is important to have this work area in our property. We will also have storage units within the building for residents to store those extra items they do not have room for after downsizing.
Why is Flaherty & Collins the right pick for this project?
Flaherty & Collins Properties is the right pick because we have the most experience with public private development. We also are the only group to be willing to invest their own money at this site. The site has been available since 2010, and no one else has stepped up to take on the challenge of the site. We believe in this project, and we are willing to invest $20 million-plus of our own money into this development.
Our team is well suited because of the depth of experience that we bring. Prior to working for F&C, I worked at the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. My experience with tax codes and credits helped me identify that this former foundry site was a great candidate for the DINO tax credit, a program that provides state tax credits to help with revitalizing former industrial sites. As a result of our team’s hard work and efforts, the IEDC approved the largest DINO Tax credit award in the history of the program for this project at $5.8 million.
What are you looking forward to?
Besides breaking ground? Kristi and I are looking forward to spending more time in Elkhart, seeing the nieces and nephews, and being able to catch a show at the Lerner Theatre – I have toured the facility but haven’t been in town on the day of a show.