SOUTH BEND This week marks a milestone for efforts to find a new tenant for the former College Football Hall of Fame building in downtown South Bend.
A proposed agreement in the works would give preference to plans for a Culinary Arts and Food Education Center.
“But we haven’t found any place else that combines all these things, we think this is a one of a kind and perhaps down the road it will be a role model for other cities,” said Donna Pfeil with Culinary Center Coalition of South Bend.
The downtown already has a unique food related identity as the place you go to escape the chain restaurants and experience fine dining at independent establishments.
The Culinary Arts and Food Education Center is designed to build on that identity.
While some football fields have a dome high atop the stadium, the one proposed for the Gridiron Plaza outside the former Hall of Fame lies right at ground level.
“At one end, where the old football field is, we would create a geodesic dome to be able to do hydroponics in that area, and then let light down into the basement and light up that whole dark area,” said Pfeil.
60 percent of the space in the old hall building lies underground and it took some over-the-top thinking to turn that liability into an asset.
The dome allows for a one cubic acre hydroponic growing space capable of producing more than three million cherry tomatoes a year.
As for the building’s signature circular staircase and its accompanying football sculpture, “We perceive putting in an aquaculture program there with three level aquarium shall we say that’s divided into triangles so that we can demonstrate aquaculture, raising fish to eat, Tilapia in particular,” said Pfeil.
The final piece of the puzzle involves moving Ivy Tech’s culinary arts program into the building where students would turn the fresh fish and produce into their own unique creations.
What you end up with is a demonstration site for urban food technologies that doubles as a tourist attraction.
“And the public can come down there too because there will be windows both into the baking and the culinary kitchens so you can come down and see what those students are doing,” said Pfeil. “We also envision a café on the first floor run by the hospitality students and of course the food and everything will come out of the culinary kitchens.”
The project is bold and unique, but not cheap. The estimated price tag is $6 million.
A proposed memorandum of understanding would give the culinary center supporters six to eight months to figure out a way to raise the needed cash.
The proposed agreement is expected to come up for a vote before South Bend’s Redevelopment Commission on Thursday.