Eighteen years ago, Craig Rumpf was excited.
The owner of Country Bake Shop on Indiana 933 in South Bend had heard that Kroger would be building a new store and development next to his business along the north end of town.
“I thought, ‘Wow, that would be great for my business,’ just because of the traffic,” he said. “That would have been wonderful.”
But now Rumpf said he was disappointed to learn what would actually happen to the property that Kroger has now sold to a power company, Indiana Michigan Power.
“We’ve been doing a lot of neighborhood business since we’ve been here so long and I think anything that happens on the freeway that isn’t a used car park or an antique mall would benefit . Just something with the traffic and giving people a reason to come, which is why I thought a grocery store (would be awesome),” he said. “(But what happens) won’t do anything.”
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For nearly 20 years, the 11-acre property located at Indiana 933 and Auten Road has had a long and arduous history under Kroger Limited Partnership ownership.
The grocery chain purchased the land in 2004 where ten homes, Jack’s Trailer Sales & Rental and a shopping mall, Clocktower Square, had resided. The company then told The Tribune that it intended to build a new mall with a Kroger store anchored on the site and initial plans to open by the spring of 2005.
But the excitement and anticipation waned because for two years the abandoned buildings had fallen into disrepair and were finally razed in 2006. The Tribune archives record rumors that the grocer gave up on his plans.
Kroger spokesman Jeff Golc dispelled the gossip saying “we still have construction plans there” and “we acquired the land to make sure the site would be there when we were ready to build.” , but details of when that would happen were not provided.
A faint breath of hope was breathed back into the project in 2007 when the Cincinnati-based grocer indicated it would build the new store by the end of 2008 or early 2009. But again, years passed without any building or construction projects being completed or announced.
It wasn’t until 2010 that then-spokesman John Elliott all but confirmed what many in the area had already concluded – the project was destined to sit idle as the company reassessed the economic market. and changed its investment focus from new to existing construction. stores.
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“The ratio of new stores to renovated stores has changed dramatically,” Elliott told The Tribune at the time. “I do not envision any re-evaluation of this property until the overall economy of South Bend recovers further. It’s a bit of a gloomy market, and it’s not in this context that we would decide to build another store. It’s in the hands of the consumer, so to speak.
Current Indianapolis-based Kroger spokesman Eric Halvorson echoed a similar sentiment in a recent statement, saying the company “reinvented its corporate business model” with its Restock Kroger initiative, which focused less on construction and more on combining physical and digital shopping experiences for customers and employees. The effort was introduced in 2017 and, Halvorson said, has saved the company “more than $1 billion in each of (its) three years.”
“So, to face the intense competition in the grocery sector, we focused on improvements and innovation in existing stores, but we always remembered our tradition of friendly service and the most delicious foods. fresh from all over Michiana,” he said in an emailed statement.
Ownership records show Kroger sold the 15 plots to I&M last year for $2.6 million. Now plans to put electrical equipment on the undisturbed grass pitch are being discussed.
A spokeswoman for I&M said the property would be “part of an upcoming reliability project” but did not share further details, saying only that plans for the project are expected to be announced in the spring.
Bill Schalliol, executive director of economic development for St. Joseph County, said he spoke last week with I&M officials who said they planned to build a substation and new upgrades. at electric level between South Bend and Niles. Schalliol said the county requested site plans to see how much land was left for any commercial development.
“From our perspective, we would like to see (the substation) set back and have space in the front for commercial use,” he said.
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Public meetings on the proposal are expected to be scheduled in the coming months.
Rumpf said he was encouraged to hear there may still be a chance to build a commercial development on the land, saying it would be nice to have something for nearby neighborhoods.
“Just something for the neighborhood,” he said. “I understand infrastructure is important too, especially with new electric cars, but you know that’s not my forte.”
Contact Mary Shown at 574-235-6244 and [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @maryshownSBT and @marketbasketSBT.