THE LERNER THEATRE HAS BEEN A DESTINATION FOR GENERATIONS OF ELKHART RESIDENTS AND VISITORS. THIS 1920’S ERA BUILIDNG HAD SERVICED OUR COMMUITY WELL BUT BY 2005 IT WAS TIME FOR A FACE-LIFT. OUR COMMUNITY saw potential IN OUR HISTORIC THEATRE. With bipartisan political support and the backing of the community at large, an $18 million plan was created to reaffirm the Lerner Theatre as the heart of Elkhart’s Arts and Entertainment District.
It wasn’t easy. The Great Recession of 2008-09 was taking a tremendous toll on the local economy. But the Lerner’s revitalization meant so much for the long-term viability and vibrancy of downtown Elkhart that the opportunity could not be put aside for better days.
The investment and commitment continues to pay off.
The city spent $207,000 in 2009 to acquire the former storefront where the box office and Crystal Ballroom now exist. About $2 million a year (2010-12) from downtown redevelopment district funds were put into the revitalization.
And since the Lerner’s doors reopened in 2011, the annual tax revenue paid into the downtown fund has grown by nearly 9 percent. The private sector sees the value of financial investment in neighboring properties due to the Lerner’s success.
Today, the theatre is the crown jewel of the Gateway Mile. Downtown storefront occupancy continues to grow, and market-rate apartments are filled. Nearby neighborhoods are improving, and activities fill the streets, stores and restaurants with regularity.
With the Lerner at its heart, the idea of downtown Elkhart as a place to live, work and play has taken root.