Connecting Dinosaurs, Chocolate And Trains in South Bend

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Mark Tarner co-founded South Bend Chocolate Co. in 1991. Mark Tarner co-founded South Bend Chocolate Co. in 1991.
SOUTH BEND -

One of the early players in South Bend's downtown revitalization has a new vision for the suburbs. South Bend Chocolate Co. owner Mark Tarner is moving forward on a proposal detailed earlier this year for a 90-acre attraction featuring a new production facility, chocolate museum, Indiana Dinosaur Museum, restaurant and bison farm, as well as a new piece -- a South Shore rail line station. He expects work on the property near South Bend International Airport to begin in April and the finished project, Tarner says the project would serve as a key component to creating a "destination station" that combines tourism, transportation and dining components.

The concept of adding a train station, Tarner says, was broached by an unnamed government official and has not yet been formally introduced. The South Bend Tribune reports a study commissioned by the city to explore alternative routes for the South Shore Line's high-profile, double-tracking and relocation project will include a look at a potential pathway for the aforementioned station.

Tarner, an amateur paleontologist, thinks mixed-use housing and hotels could sprout up as a result of development. He believes the project could be a major draw for families. The full scope of his vision, which is expected to cost between $10 million to $14 million, would be "sort of green and cosmopolitan at the same time," and would bring in travelers heading north to Traverse City, Michigan or west to Chicago. Tarner says the area could ultimately grow into something similar to Eddy Street Commons near the University of Notre Dame or some developments that incorporate retail and various housing options in Indianapolis or Carmel. The dinosaur museum plan has landed a $500,000 boost from the statewide Regional Cities Initiative and Tarner says it has also received community support.

Tarner opened his company downtown in 1991 as a second business. It has since grown to include 11 company-owned stores and four franchises in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. "I put a 10,000 square-foot store in our downtown and brought in families -- it's one of our chocolate cafes, we (also) have a smaller version on the Circle (in downtown Indianapolis) -- and what I did was really a proof-of concept and I did it probably when I shouldn't have done it. Now, I think they call it new urbanism. When I did it, they called it stupidity and I think everyone thought I was going to go bankrupt," he chuckled. "And now, they're building a new Marriott hotel behind us." Tarner believes the urban resurgence that has taken hold in South Bend, Indianapolis and elsewhere will spread out to suburban areas like the area he's planning the new attraction, too, "and I'm betting everything I've saved on it."

South Bend Chocolate Co. Co-Founder Mark Tarner, an amateur paleontologist, thinks mixed-use housing and hotels could sprout up as a result of development.
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