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Bring development home

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By John Phair, President & CEO (1999-2019) (South Bend, IN)

You will have to bear with me today. Most will find this boring!

Our company has real estate development and management offices in five cities, another 15 or so property management offices and 350+ properties we oversee in over 20 states. Our team is loyal, professional and caring.

But today I am going to be parochial — focusing on the city where our headquarters is located — South Bend, Indiana.

Holladay Properties is celebrating our 60th year in business. We were founded in 1952 in Washington, DC.  We built our first project in South Bend in 1967 and opened a “full service,” one man office, here, in 1978. Today we are 200 strong. We split the company in two in 1999 — the Midwest office renamed Holladay Properties in South Bend and the Holladay Corporation in Washington, DC. We are still teammates on many projects, but have operated independently for these last 13 years or so.

The commercial real estate, management and development business is inherently local. “Location, location, location” is not just a catchy phrase, it is critical to finding success in our field. In each of our five locations we have become part of the local culture, political and business communities. Our people participate in schools, churches, local politics, clubs and economic development efforts. One of our main jobs is to make the communities we are in a better place to live. It is not only the right thing to do, it is good for business.

That brings us back to South Bend. What’s wrong with it? I think we have been sold a bill of goods.

Our one party political system is a loser. I know we are in the final days of the political season but this is not about local politics. It isn’t about local boosterism. It’s a call for a single minded determination to get us back on track. We’ve steadily given up our brand — South Bend. We’ve abdicated our leadership role in the area. We’ve lost population steadily for 40 plus years. The latest “code” word is “regionalism” — we are the center of an economic unit of four or seven or ten counties and as long as some good things are happening in those areas, apparently that is good enough for South Bend. I believe regionalism means redistribution. Let’s move out of South Bend but keep it in the “region” — that makes it ok!

Consider that over the last four decades we have gone from

  • Home to three hospital headquarters and facilities to no headquarters (by the end of 2013 Memorial will move its headquarter staff to a Beacon Health facility in Granger) and one hospital
  • Our largest social service agency collapsed and was partially taken over by an Elkhart entity and another large local one is about to go in the same direction
  • But for AM General (and all their local  manufacturing is in Mishawaka), virtually all major manufacturers (500+ employees) have closed or moved out of the city
  • Our largest privately owned company, Schurz Communications, relocated several of its entities and, most importantly, its headquarters, to Mishawaka
  • Almost without a whimper, we said goodbye to the local retail community throughout the 70’s and 80’s, just as we did to the new housing industry in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s
  • We gave up on our office building leadership in the 90’s
  • We’ve let the Century Center become second rate
  • Our Chamber of Commerce has gone from a South Bend Chamber to South Bend/Mishawaka Chamber and now to St. Joseph County Chamber
  • We’ve had numerous pop-up economic development organizations emerge in the last couple of years partly as a result of the ineffectiveness of Project Future (now gone itself) but also because of the lack of local South Bend business leadership

Regionalism has been a code word for redistribution. Problem is, all of the new things in the region are outside of South Bend. And we as a company are a contributor, building some of our largest and nicest projects in Mishawaka, Elkhart and St. Joseph County.

Meanwhile, our headquarters town of South Bend — a community I love — is becoming a ghost town. We must try to develop that single minded determination to make it happen here! Activity in Granger or New Carlisle or Mishawaka is NOT the same. Extending the Metronet and city sewer to surrounding communities — good policy or simply making it easier to relocate out of South Bend?

We are a university town. We have the two Interstate exits and a good airport. The area’s largest bank and credit union are based here. Why can’t we have growth? Why aren’t we more pro-development? People who want to expand their business here often are faced with roadblocks they don’t run into elsewhere, including nearby communities.

Holladay has become a part of the fabric of many other communities. Maybe someone can give me some ideas we can bring back to our own hometown. Forty years of change requires a determination to reverse course. I hope we find it soon.


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