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Studebaker Legacy Lives 50 Years After Closing

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Former Mayor Stephen Luecke said the lingering psychological impact those buildings were having on the city is part of the reason his administration took steps to tear them down and develop Ignition Park as a hub for new technology businesses.

“They were not only a blight on our landscape but a blight on our psyche,” he said.

Luecke said he hopes the city has exorcised the ghost of Studebaker while holding on to the positives of the company’s legacy. Clearing the land at Prairie Avenue and Sample Street for Ignition Park opened up 84 acres of new possibilities and an opportunity for South Bend to reinvent itself.

“What we really wanted to carry forward from Studebaker was a sense of innovation, that we know how to make things in South Bend, and that we have the ability to build homegrown businesses,” Luecke said.

That tradition is carrying on in laboratories at the University of Notre Dame, which in the past five years has nearly doubled its annual research budget to $158 million, and in the 25 startup companies at Innovation Park across the street from the university.

Data Realty became Ignition Park’s first tenant last fall when it opened its $15 million data center, and Great Lakes Capital announced in October that it will build a $6 million facility to house early-phase companies at the park. Smith saved Union Station from demolition in 1979 and turned it into Indiana’s second-largest data center; he plans to invest $10 million in Ivy Tower.

Countless other local businesses have negotiated the transition to advanced manufacturing and the new economy, but there are still many problems to fix.

South Bend has lost 30,000 residents since 1960, leaving hundreds of abandoned houses throughout once vibrant neighborhoods. Downtown shows signs of revitalization, but city officials and business owners agree it has yet to recover from the 50-year-old malaise.

The county’s unemployment rate of 9 percent is higher than state and national figures, and local company heads have complained about a “skills gap” that makes it difficult to fill available jobs.

Despite those challenges, Data Realty’s Carlton said South Bend still possesses the strengths that made Studebaker’s rise possible.

The city’s new businesses might not make cars and trucks, but whatever they make will be based on the same key ingredients of innovation, capital, collaboration and talent.

And Critchlow, the author and former Notre Dame professor, said the city doesn’t have to forget Studebaker to move forward.

“The innovation that the Studebaker brothers brought to South Bend needs to be projected into the future,” he said. “The people of South Bend can continue to have fond memories of what once was while looking to a future of what will be.”

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Posted by FanningCommunications on Jan 3rd, 2014 and filed under American Street Guide. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response by filling following comment form or trackback to this entry from your site

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