What will be the fate for the former AJ Wright Building?

By Colleen Ferreira (

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3:56 AM PDT, June 22, 2011


SOUTH BEND -- South Bend's West side is home to a large empty building on Sample Street. About 700 people lost their jobs when AJ Wright closed in February. Many say there's a slim chance the city will find a new company to take over that site in the foreseeable future.

On Tuesday evening, city economists opened the floor to the South Bend Community looking for input. Some people are confident the city is making an effort to fill the empty site, others remain skeptical. But one thing is certain: The closing of AJ Wright is having a negative impact on West-side business.

The tables are empty and orders are scarce at Taqueria Chicago on Western Avenue.

"It's a family owned restaurant, so what they do is they cut down on people and them helping out, so we don't have to pay more," said Jasmine Martinez, who has worked there since they opened 14 years ago.

The reduced hours are a direct effect of AJ Wright shutting down in February. Since the layoffs, Martinez said business is down 40 percent.

“It’s slowed down a lot,” Martinez said. “We used to have a lot of lunch customers around twelve o'clock, and then they used to call in and make big orders and come pick them up, so it has been slowed down a lot."

The 540,000 square foot AJ Wright facility is still empty.

"We're working with local companies that have expansion needs," Don Inks, the Director of Economic Development for the City of South Bend.

Inks said they're also working with the state. He said stimulating business development won't happen overnight because the economy is still recovering.

"I think a timetable would not be realistic right now," Inks said.

But people who came to the city's meeting are getting anxious. Barbara Turner was laid off from AJ Wright. She's still unemployed, but remains optimistic the city will find another taker.

"Hopefully something that will hire as many employees as they had already, so more people can have more jobs," Turner said.

More work is on everyone's mind.

But Martinez from Taqueria Chicago isn't confident the city can pull off the challenge.

"I don’t see it happening." Martinez said.

TJX, the company that owns AJ Wright, owes the city of South Bend 3.2 million dollars for not living out their contract until 2019. The city has not seen any of that money just yet.

And they're unsure how they would use that money. That's another reason they held a meeting on Tuesday night. They wanted community input before they make any decisions on where the money would go.

Possible options include prepping the old AJ Wright site to attract another company or using the money toward tax abatements for other city projects.