By Marek Mazurek
South Bend Tribune
SOUTH BEND — Citing extensive water damage and a lack of communication with the city’s code enforcement department, a hearing officer Thursday issued $10,000 in fines to the owner of the historic State Theater in downtown South Bend.
At a code enforcement hearing, city inspectors detailed code violations, including crumbling bricks on the outside of the theater and water damage to the building’s roof, walls and interior. Inspectors said a pedestrian walking in the alley between the theater and the old Club Fever building was almost hit by a falling chunk of brick.
“Anyone walking past it can see the danger; the owner has to see the danger,” said hearing officer Michelle Engel before granting the city’s request for two $5,000 civil penalties.
Engel also affirmed a previous order to repair the building’s roof.
A representative from the building’s owner, Toscana Capital Group LLC, did not attend the hearing and the registered agent for the company, Richard Ejemenye, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Toscana Group took ownership of the building in August of last year, property records show.
Thursday’s hearing stems from a 2018 inspection which found the building’s roof needs repairs. An order was issued in 2019 and the property has been under continuous enforcement since then, with code enforcement records showing $2,850 in outstanding fines.
Since then, hearings have been repeatedly delayed due to ownership changes and the COVID-19 pandemic, according to city records.
City spokesman Caleb Bauer told The Tribune the city, “would be open to working with an owner who is willing and able to invest in the building.”
Issues with the building came to a head in late February when a leak in the roof of South Bend Brew Werks, which rented space on the first floor of the building, gave way. It left standing water on the floor, forcing the restaurant to temporarily close.
“In the middle of a pandemic when every restaurant and brewery in the country is figuring out how to stay alive, we’ve had to deal with this on top of it,” said Steve Lowe, the owner of South Bend Brew Werks. “It’s been incredibly stressful.”
South Bend Brew Werks had begun the process of moving to a new space in the renovated Hibberd building at 321 S. Main Street when the leaking occurred. Lowe said he’s glad to be out of the building now, but he doubts the fines will force Toscana Group to take action.
“I’m glad they’re doing something,” Lowe said. “I’m not sure it’s going to be enough to make derelict property owners of buildings like the State Theater do something.”
The building at 212-216 S. Michigan St. first opened in 1921 as the Blackstone Theatre Vaudeville House and was renamed The State in 1931. The State operated as a movie theater before closing in 1977. Since then, efforts to revive the property have been unsuccessful.
The three-story building has three street-level commercial spaces, one of which is currently rented by Idle Hours bookstore. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.