Mid-West Family South Bend plans to move back to South Bend, near downtown
SOUTH BEND — A group of radio stations whose prior owner a decade ago moved them from downtown South Bend to Mishawaka’s commercial corridor could soon return to South Bend’s core.
The South Bend Common Council Monday night approved the first step in granting property tax abatements to Mid-West Family Broadcasting for its plan to move four stations — WNSN (Sunny 101.5 FM), WSBT (960 AM/96.1 FM), WZOC (94.3 FM) and WQLQ (99.9 FM) — from 1301 E. Douglas Road in Mishawaka to a vacant building at 316 E. Monroe St. in South Bend.
The company has told the city it would spend more than $3.5 million to build four studios and offices within the 18,000-square foot structure, at the southwest corner of Columbia and Monroe streets.
The location will serve as a regional headquarters for WSJM Inc., an independently owned cluster of stations that’s part of a “confederation” of 41 radio stations operating under the Mid-West Family brand in Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri, said Bill Gamble, local general manager.
Winning the tax abatement would be “an important part” of the company’s plan to buy the property, Gamble said.
He said the move was prompted by the company’s lease with Schurz Communications coming to an end in February, and by its desire to return one of Indiana’s oldest radio stations to South Bend. WSBT was founded in 1922 as WGAZ, the call letters standing for “World’s Greatest Automotive Zone,” a nod to the Studebaker company’s local influence.
In 1925, Schurz Communications, then owner of The Tribune, changed the call letters to WSBT, with the three letters standing for “South Bend Tribune.”
“We certainly looked at a lot of areas but emotionally, for a lot of our employees, former and current, WSBT should be in South Bend,” Gamble said. “As we’re looking to relocate, we would certainly like to celebrate our 100th anniversary back in South Bend.”
Schurz in 2008 moved the radio stations from the southwest corner of Jefferson and Lafayette boulevards downtown to its newly built Douglas Road facility in Mishawaka. WNIT-TV, the South Bend area’s Public Broadcasting Service affiliate, moved into the former WSBT site in 2010.
Schurz in 2016 sold all of its radio and TV stations, and later sold off its newspapers, including The Tribune. The company, now operating in the managed cloud services and cable/broadband fields, has retained ownership of the Douglas Road property. It houses its corporate offices there, while also leasing space to Mid-West Family South Bend’s four radio stations and WSBT-TV, now owned by Sinclair Broadcasting.
Mid-West Family South Bend, operating legally as WSJM Inc., has told the city it plans to start construction in mid-August and move in by mid-April 2021. Todd Schurz, president and CEO, said he will start looking for tenants to fill the roughly one-fourth of the building that Mid-West will vacate.
Mid-West plans to spend about $2.5 million on renovation, which will include adding an entrance and some windows; $800,000 on new equipment; and $235,000 to buy the land and building. The abatement would last five years, with the council considering final approval at its May 26 meeting.
The project would retain 23 full-time jobs and create three new ones over the first three years, a “conservative estimate,” Gamble said.
The building has been vacant for at least a few years, having last served as a data center for cloud and internet service provider CyrusOne, said Dan Buckenmeyer, the city’s business development director.
The vacant property is now generating about $12,000 in property tax annually for the city. After six years, Mid-West would be paying about $60,000 per year in tax, Buckenmeyer said.
Buckenmeyer said the building, which has a windowless concrete facade, had “no small amount of challenges for re-use.”
“We were afraid it would end up in the city’s hands and be demolished at some point,” Buckenmeyer said, “so it’s great to see it will be put to use by this company.”
Council members thanked Gamble for the investment, especially as the area tries to recover economically from the coronavirus.
“You’re coming back home,” council member Rachel Tomas-Morgan said. “And it couldn’t come at a better time.”