Vacant Ward Bakery building could turn into retail space

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The Ward Bakery Co. building on Portage Avenue in South Bend has been vacant for more than a decade, but with new plans on the table, the building may well be renovated.

Near Northwest Neighborhood Inc. at one point planned to turn the vacant building into affordable housing, but the nonprofit’s tax credit claim was denied.

Now, a group of four developers are hoping to completely renovate the building into a neighborhood hub as early as March 2021.

Mike Keen, Director of Thrive Michiana, worked with other developers to transform the community around the old Ward Bakery Co. building with renovations and additions.

“What we call the elephant in the room and that’s this Ward Bakery building,” Keen said. “It’s been empty for 10 or 15 years and it’s slowly deteriorating and frankly people who don’t live in this neighborhood are afraid of it.”

Keen said they were the only ones submitting an offer and a proposal to the county.

The developers made an offer of $ 2,000, but they now have 120 days to do their due diligence and check the condition of the building, according to Keen. By September 2020, the team will be able to take possession of the building.

The roof of the building that was constructed in 1919 has since collapsed and environmental remediation work needs to be done, according to Keen.

However, if everything continues to go as planned, the community will have a neighborhood center built over the next few years.

In fact, Keen said the work has already started.

“As soon as we have our first day open there, we’re going to go out there and clean up, clean up, clean up,” Keen said. “While we’re waiting for it until then, we’ll do our design and pre-lease so that when we hit the ground, when we can legally take possession of this building and get in there, we’ll start to. to run.

The developers envision office space, indoor and outdoor event spaces, retail booths and more.

A woman who has lived in South Bend for 25 years said she has never seen a more promising plan for the building.

“I’m just thrilled,” said Betsy Roessner. “I really am. It affects the value of my property, it affects my daily life.

Keen has completed a number of projects in the Portage Avenue community, including unique benches and remodeled two buildings as work and living spaces directly across from the old bakery.

Keen said he worked with Habitat for Humanity to build five houses and is now working on a small house project near Portage Avenue.

Over the next two years, the community will experience significant changes, according to Keen.

The new Neighborhood Center could open to tenants as early as March 2021 if all goes well.

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