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River Lights is a celebration of the St. Joseph River in South Bend, Indiana. The very name of our city is derived from this historic waterway. Bringing a dramatic light display to the river highlights our city’s greatest natural resource. Light sculptures as bright as fireworks along with the calming sound of the river creates a one-of-a-kind ambiance in the very center of the city core. This permanent, year-round display boldly highlights the vitality of our South Bend community. It can be enjoyed by young and old alike.


Rob Shakespeare, along with countless place-making experts, new urbanists, city planners, and developers alike attest that this style of project far exceeds its ornamental value. The economic impact and community development potential that can be realized through South Bend River Lights is remarkable at several levels.

Celebrates the Historical and Future Importance of the River
The St. Joseph River is the foundation upon which this city was built. It had early historical significance to both the Native Americans in this region for transportation and agriculture, and also to the early European settlers as an important part of the fur trade route. Many years later the river powered the peak manufacturing industries that made South Bend prosper. Today, the river is being rediscovered as a source of energy and economic development.

Complements Existing Businesses
The Century Center, South Bend Museum of Art, Seitz Park, East Bank Emporium Restaurant & Shops, and the DoubleTree by Hilton are just some of the existing businesses that saw an immediate and direct impact by an invigorated, dynamic riverfront. Many other businesses in the downtown benefit from this project that both stabilizes and enhances the economy of this corridor while increasing adjacent property values.

Spurs Public & Private Projects/Investments
The re-routing of two-way streets, a concentrated effort to revive the river walk, a focus on Howard Park revitalization, the newly created Municipal Riverfront Development District, the East Bank Village Master Plan and Howard Park Neighborhood Association plans all serve to benefit from this project, as do private housing and commercial development initiatives along the riverfront.

Attracts Visitors
River Lights is a project that will garner local, regional and national attention. This installation is something that instantly attracts local visitors on a consistent basis. Artist Rob Shakespeare reports that similar projects have provoked a “must-see” type sentiment for any visitors to the area. It is not difficult to imagine folks across the region asking, “Have you seen what ‘they’ did to the riverfront in downtown South Bend?”

Creates a Community Identity/Sense of Place
Comparable projects such as Bloomington, Indiana’s “Light Totem” and Providence, Rhode Island’s “Water Fire” have generated a groundswell of support from and enthusiasm for their local communities. Creating a true sense of place in a given environment, these community-galvanizing projects are the types of things for which South Bend yearns.

Preserves Public Safety
Preserving the safety of the downtown is a constant goal and one that is synonymous with development potential. A vibrant riverfront contributes to that end. River Lights creates an environment that reclaims the riverfront from the shadows of night and provides yet another safe nighttime attraction for downtown.

Incites Geographic Development
The project area is a prime development corridor and an important geographic node to incite, complete and complement other development projects throughout the city. First and foremost, this project serves to connect both the east & west sides of the river, which are historically divided at many levels. This is also a high profile link in the chain that connects downtown to the activity to the north east (East Bank Village, St. Joseph High School, Eddy Street Developments and Notre Dame), to the south (Dining & Arts District, Coveleski Stadium, Renaissance District and Ignition Park), to the north (Memorial Hospital), and to the west (West Washington, Near Northwest Neighborhood and Lincolnway to the Airport).

Supports Arts & Culture
The artistic nature of this lighting project outwardly and boldly highlights South Bend as a community committed to arts and culture. The economic engines associated with arts and culture initiatives have been widely documented. Terms such as “creative economy,” “creative class,” and “cultural economy” are becoming more common, and the use of terminology linking culture and the economy indicates recognition of the connections among the fields of planning, economic development, and arts and culture. The American Planning Association recently released an article titled, How the Arts and Culture Sector Catalyzes Economic Vitality. The article explains how, “the activities of the arts and culture sector and local economic vitality are connected in many ways. Arts, culture, and creativity can:

  • Improve a community’s competitive edge

  • Create a foundation for defining a sense of place

  • Attract new and visiting populations

  • Contribute to the development of a skilled workforce.”

The backdrop of this lighting installation immediately cements the downtown riverfront as a prime destination for special events of all varieties. It also serves to enhance the popularity of current events which utilize the river, such as the Seitz & Sounds (the Seitz Park summer concert series), whitewater events on the East Race and special events at the Century Center Island. This project also serves to recognize our river as a form of recreation for runners, walkers, bikers, and boaters alike. Integrated into this venture is a scalability that could include various, complementary lighting installations along the entire South Bend river walk.

Perpetuates Green Initiatives
Blending a hydroelectric power source with modern lighting technology (designed to minimize light pollution) is an excellent way to educate our community on the City of South Bend’s ongoing green initiatives which are broad and complex. It is also a tool to powerfully illustrate the advanced nature of our city.

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