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The automobile and modern highways have made political boundaries less important, and one place in Indiana where that is particularly evident is the city of Mishawaka.

Long viewed as a bedroom community for South Bend, its neighbor to the west, Mishawaka took great strides during the 1980s toward becoming "the hub of Michiana," according to Mayor Robert C. Beutter.

Originally the creation of television-station marketing departments, the concept of Michiana has become reality to the 300,000 people who live in the region straddling the border between Indiana and Michigan. The primary population centers are the cities of South Bend, Mishawaka and Elkhart, with Mishawaka fortunate to be in the middle.

"I talk about the South Bend-Mishawaka-Elkhart community," says Beutter, 57, an attorney who is in his 10th year as mayor. "The growth that's occurring is South Bend and Elkhart both growing toward us. That strengthens our whole community. Anything good in St. Joseph and Elkhart counties helps us."

Although Mishawaka is in a good location, a great amount of private and public sector effort has been needed to make the city of 43,000 people a growth area. The era of rapid growth began in the late 1970s when the Edward J. DeBartolo Corp. of Youngstown, Ohio, chose the far north end of Mishawaka as the site of its University Park Mall.

Since the mall opened in 1979, Cressy and Everett Commercial Company Inc. of Mishawaka has been working on getting corporate and professional offices in its Edison Lakes Corporate Park, located between the mall and the city itself.

Last year, Cressy and Everett Commercial, co-developers of the mall, hit another home run when National Steel Corp. opened its new corporate headquarters in Edison Lakes. National Steel, which moved its corporate headquarters from Pittsburgh, now employs between 400 and 500 people at the new location in Mishawaka. The average salary of headquarters office personnel is in the $50,000 range.

"We were tickled to get National Steel," says Len Gheradi, Mishawaka's director of community development. "It was geographically opportune for them, and Edison Lakes exhibits a high-quality construction and transportation environment." National Steel executives wanted to be within a one-day drive of their plants, located at Burns Harbor near Portage as well as in the Detroit and St. Louis areas.

Still, Mishawaka landing National Steel was not a sure thing, says Don Cressy, chairman of the real-estate company that bears his name. "National Steel had a lot of other choices. They had Merrillville, Detroit and St. Louis. We gave them the full-court pressure," Cressy says.

"Five years ago, the South Bend-Mishawaka-Elkhart area didn't have a first-class suburban office park," Cressy adds. "Every other community had one. We weren't competitive; we needed one too." The Edison Lakes master plan offers a campus-like environment for offices along with upscale retail and residential development opportunities.

To an extent, Edison Lakes competes against South Bend's Airport 2010 corporate and industrial park near Michiana Regional Airport on South Bend's northwest side. However, one big difference is that Edison Lakes does not allow any manufacturing. "Airport 2010 is great," Cressy says. "Some people will want to be next to the airport. If a community offers choices, it will be successful."

Mishawaka and Edison Lakes might be chosen, in the near future, as the site for other corporate or regional headquarters. "We have an opportunity to recruit a few more large companies to this community," Cressy says. "Other companies from out-of-state are looking at us. Three years ago, they wouldn't even look at us."

Corporate headquarters moves are relatively rare, but Cressy says, "Large, maybe Fortune 200, companies need regional offices using 60,000 to 80,000 square feet (National Steel occupies 110,000 square feet) for 200 to 400 employees. We have a good chance of getting Chicago overflow. The cost of parking in Chicago will pay a good portion of their rent at Edison Lakes."

By the year 2000, Cressy and Everett wants Edison Lakes to have high-rise office buildings and a fashion court -- an upscale anchor store along with other tenants, attached to a hotel. "We're close to making announcements on upscale restaurants and motels. It will be like Keystone at the Crossing in Indianapolis."

Although some voters might worry about their city government getting too cozy with one development firm, Beutter says it offers advantages. "The partnership with private developers is, very definitely, mutually beneficial," the mayor says. "Cressy is committed to quality. It's an advantage to have one developer. If you had five developers up there, one might try to make a fast dollar."

Beutter's choice of the phrase "up there" indicates how different the University Park Mall-Edison Lakes area is from the original cluster of neighborhoods called Mishawaka.

"I think of the two cities of Mishawaka, the north side (the University Park Mall-Edison Lakes area) and the rest of the city," Beutter says. "We have the traditional, folksy neighborhoods on the one hand, and multimillion-dollar developers on the other."

The mayor is enthusiastic about Grape Road, the retail corridor connecting Mishawaka with the University Park Mall-Edison Lakes area. "It's bright, loud, entertaining. It's Boomsville up there, a whole community of its own."

Now, 70 percent of the retail sales in St. Joseph County (which includes South Bend and Mishawaka) occur at University Park Mall and the spinoff retail developments along the Grape Road corridor, Beutter says.

Mishawaka's conversion into a regional retail center helped the community get through a difficult period when several of its largest industrial employers either closed, relocated or sharply downsized. The list includes Uniroyal Plastics, which once employed 5,000 to 6,000 people, but is down to only 260 workers now, and Wheelabrator Corp., which moved to Georgia.

Employment at the Allied Signal Aerospace Division is down to only 130 and Reliance Electric employs about 500 people now, compared with its previous peak of 1,500 workers, Beutter says.

The other large industrial employers in and near Mishawaka are AM General Inc., manufacturer of the Hummer military vehicle; the Diagnostics Division of Miles Inc.; and Nyloncraft Inc., subsidiary of the Elkhart-based Excel Industries Inc., an auto parts supplier.

"As large industrial employers phased out, Mishawaka remained a nice place to live and a substantial number of people were employed somewhere else," so they did not have to move to find new jobs, Beutter says. "We went through a rough transition, but the outlook is very positive."

Unlike many other communities, having a thriving suburban mall didn't cause Mishawaka's downtown to shrivel up. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. employs 350 people downtown, where it works alongside with other financial-services companies, attorneys, travel and advertising agencies.

Mishawaka repositioned its downtown in the marketplace several years before University Park Mall opened. The downtown's first experience with more automobile-friendly retail districts occurred in the early 1970s when the Town & Country retail corridor opened.

Instead of having the original downtown compete against Town & Country and University Park Mall, the city encourages the different business districts to serve different needs, says Christopher Huff, director of the city's planning department.

"Our downtown is not growing tremendously, but it's in good shape, given the strength of our mall," Beutter says. There is a shortage of parking spaces downtown, which Beutter describes as "a good problem," since it shows people have reasons for going to the original central business district.

"We have a growing economic base and we're a leader in retail; I'm not embarrassed about that," Beutter says. "We'll have financial struggles during the next three to five years trying to keep up with the demand for new (municipal) services. But we have one of the premier office parks in the state, and we've attracted some good folks."
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Title Annotation:real estate development in Mishawaka, Indiana
Author:Kurowski, Jeff
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:May 1, 1993
Previous Article:Family leave: what will it mean for Indiana businesses?
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