A Win-Win-Win Proposition for the City 

Holladay Properties presented their East Bank Village Master Plan at the Century Center’s Bendix Theater tonight. This offered an opportunity to learn if a hydroelectric power plant/tourist attraction is being considered for the East Race and if not, whether such a project could be part of the plan.

Holladay’s plans includes condos, townhomes and small retail shops as well as a hotel at the former “Moonraker” restaurant site on the east bank of the St Joe River across from the Century Center. A pedestrian bridge to connect the east and west banks and updated amenities to Howard Park are just a couple of the highlights of the plan.

During the public Question and Answer portion of the evening, I noted a feasibility study and plans had been drawn in the 1980’s to install a 1.5 megawatt hydroelectric generator on the East Race.  I asked John Phair, President and CEO at Holladay if the generator had been discussed in the planning. Mr Phair said, yes, that although few details were known about the generator, there were some people in the planning committees who were aware that the generator was once slated for the East Race. I followed this up by asking Mr. Phair if a hydroelectric generator could still be included in the plans and he answered affirmatively that this was feasible.

Afterward the presentation, I spoke individually with Paul Phair, Development Analyst for Holladay. He indicated that he’d lived in Madison, Wisconsin and enjoyed that progressive city’s human-scale development. Paul seemed enthused about incorporating “green” amenities into the East Bank Village development and agreed that the hydroelectric generator/tourist attraction could dovetail nicely with their project.

In a later conversation that evening with John Phair, I told him the East Race generator’s original design included a below-water level viewing chamber that would allow visitors to view the generator’s turbine’s on one side and migrating fish on the other.  John said he was familiar with the viewing chamber at the Chittenden-Ballard locks in Seattle.  I noted the architect who designed the viewing chamber in Seattle also consulted with Lawson-Fisher for South Bend’s viewing chamber.   John Phair and Paul Phair both concurred on the benefits a design such as this could have for the city:

  • Hydroelectric power could be used to run municipal entities such as the water treatment plant and the water works, saving the city energy costs.
  • Using hydroelectric power would reduce South Bend’s dependency on electricity generated by carbon-emitting coal or nuclear energy.
  • The viewing chamber would be an educational tourist attraction, bringing thousands of visitors each year to downtown  South Bend.  Seattle’s viewing chamber is one of that city’s most popular sites for visitors. 

I shared with John Phair and Paul Phair the positive response I’d received from Congressman Joe Donnelly on federal funding for hydroelectric power on the East Race.

Finally, I spoke with 1st District Common Council Member, Derek Dieter about this project as well.  He too, responded positively to the idea of hydroelectric power from the river at the East Race. He seemed to like the idea of the below-water level fish and turbine viewing chamber

Hopefully all this enthusiasm will lead to the construction of a generator that will produce clean electricity, temporary jobs to construct it, permanent jobs to maintain it and thousand of tourists to enjoy it.