Plans underway to develop a vacant building

NOW: Plans underway to develop a vacant building

SOUTH BEND, Ind.-- The Ward Baking Company located on the corner of Rex Street and Portage Avenue, has sat crumbling and empty for close to 10 years. Needless to say, it holds a lot of history.

“This was built originally when it was at the edge of the city as the ward baking company and originally it was just a small German bakery called the Beuse Bakery and then they bought that up, added another building in the 1940s,” Bakery Group LLC President Mike Keen said. “And then it was abandoned in 2012 and since then it’s just sat empty full of stuff.”

A few years after it was abandoned, the Near Northwest Neighborhood Community Center tried to turn the building into affordable elderly and workforce housing, but were never able to win the grant needed to make it happen.

“The thing has been a neighborhood nuisance for the last decade, plus driving down neighborhood property values and making people feel this isn’t a very attractive neighborhood,” Keen said.

So, two years ago in 2019, Bakery Group LLC President Mike Keen stepped up to the plate, dedicating tons of time and brainstorming, to bring life back to the building and to the area!

“We want to turn it into neighborhood asset so that it becomes a draw because it’s such a beautiful building and if we can bring it back to its earlier life, it’ll be one of the coolest spaces not only in South Bend but really in the region,” Keen said.

“I sure do hope it does give people an opportunity to give it a second look at the near north side and portage corridor,” South Bend Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Rob DeCleene said.

Last night, Keen and the South Bend Common Council met to discuss ways the city can help financially, and approved two tax abatements for the development. With this help, the vision for this enormous space, is that much closer to becoming a reality!

“What we are looking for is a broad variety. We want some really creative folks, the artists and the makers, but we also want some professional office folks, you know people who can provide services to the other people in the building but also the neighborhood.”

“I think anytime you can use a building anywhere in the city that’s of that size with that much street frontage, it's just an exciting opportunity for guests, for the city, and the neighborhood surrounding it,” DeCleene said.

What the future holds for the building down the line, and what it’ll bring to the table, is what Keen calls a complete transformation.

“We’ve been working for the last couple of decades to sort of rebuild the neighborhood, there have been many vacant lots that we’ve recently purchased maybe 15 or 16,” Keen said. “But to go from a neighborhood that people sort of see as a scary neighborhood to a place where it becomes a destination that people want to come around and hangout and be part of, it really is, what I say is transformational.”

Keen said the transformation hopefully begins next year, and estimates it to be a 3-year project. In the meantime, he’s on the lookout for local businesses who are interested in rent out one of the 60 units inside when it's done. If you're interested in collaborating, you can reach out to him at mfkeen1@gmail.com.


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