Drewerys Brewery site remains center of controversy
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The dilapidated Drewerys Brewery site in South Bend is still the center of controversy 40 years after the beer maker went belly up.
Much of the nearly 15 acre site on Elwood Avenue is covered in debris from the demolition of crumbling buildings and on Tuesday the city opened bids to bring in its own contractors to clean it all up because the owner simply hasn't gotten it done.
Steve Durkee told ABC57 Anchor Brian Conybeare during an exclusive tour of the site the city is out to get him, trying to block his plan to employ and feed the city's poor.
Durkee has a vision for the vacant buildings still standing there.
"The goal is very simple. It's to return employment to this site," Durkee said.
The Arizona-based businessman explained his plan to create a multi-million dollar urban food campus, complete with an indoor fish farm that would also grow fresh fruit and vegetables to feed and provide up to 150 jobs to residents in the struggling neighborhood including, "On the job training positions where people can plant, harvest and give back and create new opportunities for themselves."
Some neighbors and the city have been pushing Durkee to clean up the site since he bought it four and half years ago.
“It has been an eyesore for a very long time," Durkee said.
The work to remove all the piles of crushed bricks, crumbling concrete, rusting steel, and graffiti-covered walls was suddenly halted last month when asbestos was found in some of the debris.
Conybeare asked the South Bend Code Enforcement Director Tracy Skibins if the site is unsafe.
“Yes," Skibins said.
She said many families near the site want the asbestos and all the other debris safely removed.
"They're very concerned especially for the safety of their children because day in and day out they have to live in the area," she says.
Durkee has already missed multiple code enforcement hearings and been fined more than $60,000.
On Tuesday the South Bend Board of Public Works opened bids to hire its own contractor to come in and get the work done once and for all.
They ranged from $2.4 million to $1.3 million, which would be billed to Durkee.
"It's specifically to hold the owner of the property accountable," Skibins said.
Durkee claims he remediated all the original asbestos at the site and the new pieces found there by state inspectors came from old residential siding and must have been planted by someone after a May inspection found no visible contamination.
"We do believe there were pieces put into the piles because they were kind of stabbed into the piles," Durkee said.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management, or IDEM, has halted all work at the site.
"Due to the condition of the material, it is not possible to determine if the asbestos containing transite came from the site or not. At this time, IDEM has no information indicating that the asbestos containing transite was illegally dumped on-site. Asbestos is present now and must be properly managed and abated by the property owner."
Durkee maintains the city illegally entered the site twice, and reported the asbestos to make him look bad.
"This is all the stuff that they're sweeping under the rug and make people believe I'm just a scumbag developer who came in to take money away from people. Well four and a half years later it's pretty evident that's not the case there's been nothing but costs on this facility and I keep going because this project is that important," Durkee said.
“Our focus has been and always will be the safety and health of the people of South Bend. So if he thinks it's a conspiracy that's his prerogative but our goal is to make sure he cleans up the property which he has not yet done," Skibins said.
The bids opened Tuesday are now being reviewed by the city and a decision could be made in the next two weeks.
Meanwhile the Indiana Department of Environmental Management is reviewing Durkees' latest asbestos remediation plan for the site.
Durkee also recently helped start the local group "Blacktavists," paying for their website in the wake of the deadly police shooting of Eric Logan. He hired Logan's brother, Tyree Bonds, to help out at the Drewerys site.