South Bend church investing millions in southeast neighborhood

A South Bend church had the opportunity to move out of one of the city's rougher neighborhoods, but is instead spending millions to stay.

Over the years, Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church has grown from a congregation of 35 to more than 1,200. So, it's moving out of its historic facility on the corner of Indiana and St. Joseph streets.

But, Mount Carmel isn't moving far.

"We started shopping buildings and we really thought about leaving the area altogether," said Pastor Rickardo Taylor Sr. "Different people would talk to us about staying, like Joe Donnelly and some guys from the Granger Community Church, and then one day God just put in our heart to stay here."

And, many longtime residents are happy about the church's decision. The very corner the new facility sits on was once notorious for drug trafficking and prostitution.

"There used to be a lot of people in here with guns and shooting and everything," said Bennett Thomas, whose lived in the neighborhood for 26 years.

Thomas says the crime in the neighborhood has decreased since Mount Carmel started construction on its new church. In order to do so, it bought several vacant lots and abandoned homes and leveled them.

The $2.5 million project will be complete in the coming weeks. But, the church plans to spend around $6 million more during phase 2 of construction. That will include a building with administrative offices and classrooms. The significant investment is one the neighborhood hasn't seen in decades.

"I had a guy once come up to me and say, 'Man, I've been here my whole life and I've never seen new construction in our neighborhood. For the first time, I'm seeing it.' And, that's neat."

Eventually, the church would like to purchase more nearby lots and start building homes for first-time homeowners and repairing old ones that have fallen into disrepair.

It's momentum those who live in the area hopes continues -- because they've been waiting for it for a long time.

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