Luecke’s tenure honored by local government group

Stephen J. Luecke, the longest-serving mayor in South Bend’s history, recently received the 2011 Russell G. Lloyd Distinguished Service Award from the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns.

The Lloyd award is given to an individual who has made outstanding contributions to local government. Nominees for this prestigious award must display accomplishments beyond their community, including contributions to IACT and public service, leadership and personal initiative.

“Mayor Luecke has had numerous substantial accomplishments throughout his 15 years of service as mayor,” according to Matthew C. Greller, IACT CEO and executive director. “His dedication to the betterment of South Bend through the establishment of various economic development initiatives and his overwhelming number of achievements in innovation were all cited as reasons why he was the perfect candidate for this year’s top municipal award.”

Luecke received the award at the closing business session of the 2011 IACT Annual Conference, where he also was elected as IACT’s president.

Luecke was appointed as the city’s 31st mayor in January 1997 to complete the unexpired term of Joe Kernan upon Kernan’s election as Indiana’s lieutenant governor. Luecke was elected by wide margins to three additional mayoral terms of his own. He announced in 2010 he would not seek another term and will have served nearly 15 years as mayor when he leaves office Jan. 1, 2012. Previously, Luecke served nine years as a member of the South Bend Common Council, including two terms as its president, representing the 1st District on South Bend’s northwest side.

During Luecke’s 15 years at South Bend’s helm, he helped guide the city’s transition from its manufacturing legacy to a new economy rooted in technology and research. He spearheaded the demolition of nearly 4 million square feet of obsolete buildings in the former Studebaker Corridor. (This initiative, Indiana’s most aggressive brownfield remediation effort, was recently highlighted in a report to the gathered assembly at the National Brownfields 2011 Conference.)

He strengthened partnerships with leading community institutions, including the University of Notre Dame, which he had attended as an undergraduate. Under Luecke’s leadership, South Bend created the state’s first dual-site Indiana Certified Technology Park consisting of Innovation Park at Notre Dame and Ignition Park on the grounds of the former Studebaker Corp. Three years after it was conceived, Ignition Park already is home to what is expected to be the nation’s first LEED Platinum-designated transit facility and soon will welcome a world-class data center. In addition, an unprecedented municipal commitment of $50 million to support commercialization of products in South Bend helped Notre Dame secure one of only four industry-funded national nanoelectronics research centers, the Midwest Institute for Nanoelectronics Discovery. Luecke helped develop a Business Growth Initiative partnership with The Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County, in which a representative of the City and the Chamber made hundreds of visits to South Bend businesses to remove obstacles to local expansion and job creation. An additional partnership, also involving Project Future, led South Bend to become the first U.S. city to create a broadband network, the Metronet, using its traffic conduit.

As a former union carpenter and small businessman who restored historic homes and managed rehabilitation projects for a community development corporation, Luecke brought his passion for neighborhood revitalization to public office. Before becoming mayor, he was a frequent volunteer with neighborhood organizations. During his administration, he supported the development of three neighborhood groups – South Bend Heritage Foundation, the Near Northwest Neighborhood Inc., and the Northeast Neighborhood Revitalization Organization – into community development corporations. During his tenure, South Bend twice won the National League of Cities’ Gold Award for Municipal Excellence for neighborhood revitalization efforts: in 2002 for the West Side Neighborhood Revitalization and in 2010 for the Northeast Neighborhood Revitalization.

He created an inter-agency Neighborhood Task Force, which daily resolves issues related to problem properties. Luecke’s commitment to historic preservation earned South Bend a White House designation in 2008 as a Preserve America Community. At the same time, the City demolished more than 500 abandoned houses in response to the national abandon-housing crisis. Luecke’s collegial approach to government helped South Bend become an All-America City finalist in 2009 and achieve an All-America City designation in 2011. (On a personal level, Luecke has been a volunteer builder for Habitat for Humanity and an active member of St. Augustine’s Catholic Church, a predominantly African-American parish on South Bend’s west side, where he serves as a lectern and with his wife, Peg, directed the parish’s soup kitchen.)

Under Luecke’s oversight, South Bend’s municipal government became leaner and greener even as the City invested in new infrastructure and became regarded nationally as a laboratory to pilot-test private-sector research. Since 2000, the City has cut 206 positions or 15 percent of its workforce without eliminating services. New technology improved government efficiency through systems like CSOnet, South Bend’s first-in-the-world use of technology to monitor and control combined sewer overflows. Facing one of the state’s largest revenue losses as a result of property tax caps, Luecke implemented more than $11 million in strategic spending cuts while increasing revenue to prevent massive erosion of services and sustain public-safety personnel at full strength. Luecke’s actions led to two improved bond ratings from national credit-rating agencies.

During his tenure, the City built or renovated more public facilities than under any previous mayor. They include a new Fire Department headquarters, two fire stations, an expanded Police headquarters, a Public Works Service Center, a new Studebaker National Museum, a neighborhood water park and enhancements to Coveleski Regional Stadium. Work is ongoing on a new animal shelter. Luecke also initiated a community process that led to the development of City Plan, a 20-year comprehensive plan for South Bend, which received the Indiana Planning Association’s Hoosier Planning Award for Outstanding Plan of 2006.

The City’s participation in the public-private restoration of The Morris Performing Arts Center and the Palais Royale ballroom helped spark a downtown renaissance with new private commercial and residential investment in the city’s core. New shopping districts emerged on the city’s northwest and south sides. City investments demolished a failing mall and created a walkable retail village, and turned a former landfill into another successful shopping center, terminating its TIF area 15 years ahead of schedule. Incidents of major crime citywide have fallen 39 percent since Luecke took office, reaching at least 40-year lows.

Luecke’s pledge to reduce the city’s impact on global warming provided the spark for several environmental efforts that led to South Bend’s designation as Indiana’s Green Community of the Year in 2009. His direction to complete the riverwalk along the St. Joseph River and add 50 miles of bicycle lanes and routes helped earn South Bend a national designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community. With Luecke’s support, South Bend became the only Indiana community selected by the Salvation Army for a world-class Kroc Corps Community Center, a $52.5-million investment in the community. The City also supported the renovation of a formerly segregated public natatorium into the Indiana University South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center, a project featured in South Bend’s 2011 All-America City designation. Luecke’s efforts to advance quality of life also helped South Bend’s Parks & Recreation Department become one of just four agencies in Indiana to achieve national accreditation from the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies.

Luecke’s contributions to local government extended beyond the bounds of his city. He has served on the board of the Michiana Area Council of Governments and as past president of the Northern Indiana Mayors Roundtable. He recently hosted the 2011 meeting of the Indiana Conference of Mayors. On a national scale, Luecke has been an active member of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns (supporting several community gun buy-backs while in office) and is a signatory to the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.

But Luecke’s most focused contributions beyond South Bend came through his work with the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, which he has served as vice president and a member of the board of directors, as well as on its executive and legislative committees. He has testified repeatedly before the General Assembly, advocating for fiscal home rule for local governments, insisting that the nature of that home rule be decided by and within each community. He became a point-person for local government leaders statewide on the impact of reassessment and Circuit Breaker legislation. He also has addressed the legislature on matters of caring for the environment, utility regulation, transportation funding, high-speed rail and net metering.

Publication Date: 
December 2011
Article Type: 
Innovation in Government