Announcement coming on redevelopment of former Aunt Millie’s Bakery site in downtown Fort Wayne; Chuck Surack may be involved

John Popp, president of Aunt Millie's Bakeries, says an announcement is imminent about future plans for the downtown property. (File photo by Kevin Leininger of News-Sentinel.com)

The Aunt Millie’s Bakery at 350 Pearl St. closed in April but is apparently being targeted for redevelopment.

“There’s something coming, and it will be good. You’ll be pleased. There will be an announcement Monday,” said company President John Popp.

Popp said a deal has been reached with a party he declined to name, but a source indicated Sweetwater Sound founder Chuck Surack may be involved. Citing a confidentiality agreement, Surack declined to comment but when asked about his potential role he said, “You’re a good detective.” Sources have also told The News-Sentinel representatives of the Cincinnati-based Model Group have expressed interest in the site, but it was not immediately known whether that company will be involved. The Model Group is leading the $35 million redevelopment of the historic Columbia St. “Landing” just a block away, while Surack this week announced a $76 million, 1,000-job expansion at Sweetwater’s campus on U.S. 30. If he acquires the Aunt Millie’s property, a source said, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic might use some of the space.

Despite the uncertainty, there is no doubt about the site’s redevelopment potential. The seven-acre campus, which includes parking lots and several buildings, including the 120,000-square-foot bread plant, sits at the center of numerous recent or planned downtown improvements: the city’s vacant 29-acre “North River” site to the north; a $27 million, 125-room “boutique hotel” and the Landing to the east; Parkview Field, Ash Brokerage and numerous other projects — including, perhaps, Electric Works — to the south.

“(The) site has potential due to the proximity to all the development along Harrison Street, no question . . . (it) will be an opportunity for the potential buyer to locate near the epicenter of all this activity,” Greater Fort Wayne Inc. Director of Downtown Business Development Kirk Moriarty said at the time.

It was not immediately clear whether redevelopment would make use of existing buildings. Part of the main plant dates back to 1913 and includes wooden beams and pillars that are often desirable components of “loft-style” residential units.

Ironically, the same location that makes the site attractive to developers hastened its demise as a business. After Aunt Millie’s built a $25 million bakery in the Chicago suburb of Lowell, Ind., in 2015, two major customers filed for bankruptcy and a major contract ended. That gave Aunt Millie’s excess capacity, and the need to close one of its seven bakeries. Fort Wayne’s plant was chosen because it is far from major highways, cramped and more costly to operate.

Despite the loss of about 90 bakery jobs, the company’s 120-employee office remains in the mostly vacant building. Whether the office would remain is also unclear. “We’re only using 20 percent of the space,” Popp said.

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