The Kiln Collective: New owner for “oven of Bloomington’s industrial activation”

On Tuesday afternoon, outside the kiln building of the old Showers Brothers Furniture Company, Mike Trotzke was handed ownership to a structure that just moments before Mayor John Hamilton had called the “oven of Bloomington’s industrial activation.”

Performing the handover was Bloomington’s redevelopment commission president, Don Griffin. He delivered a laugh line, which achieved its intended effect as he checked the metal on the ring: “Let’s make sure this isn’t my house key!”

The handover of the key fell to Griffin, because the RDC was the owner of the building, which it had purchased from Indiana University a few years ago along with the other real estate that makes up the Trades District.

Trozke was representing the Kiln Collective, a group of local Bloomington owners who will run their respective businesses out of the building, after its renovated.

The kiln building is just southeast of 11th and Madison streets. It’s now the second of three buildings in the Trades District to have a future as an adaptive reuse project.

The first was the Showers Company’s dimension mill. It was renovated and launched 14 months ago as The Mill, a co-working space that Hamilton described as the fastest growing such operation in the state of Indiana. On hand for the brief ceremonial handoff was Pat East, who’s executive director of The Mill.

The third Trades District building in the queue is the old Showers Company administration building. In his remarks, Hamilton referred to the admin building: “There’s only one more. The admin building. So if you want the admin building, come talk to us!”

The kiln property was at one point listed for $432,500. The Kiln Collective got the real estate for a lot less: $50,000.

Trozke called the building “a bit of a fixer upper.” One of the corridors he described as “out of a horror movie.” The generally dilapidated interior of the building will take a few million dollars to renovate, Kiln Collective member Brad Wisler told The Square Beacon.

Among the conditions on the sale is the right of first refusal for Bloomington, according to Alex Crowley, who’s director of the city’s department of economic and sustainable development. That prevents the owners from trying to flip the building to make a quick profit.

The design rendering unveiled on Tuesday afternoon shows an additional story and a half, built on top of the existing structure. The architect on the project is Lucas Brown.

Asked for a general timeframe to open the building, Kiln Collective member Don Weiler, of Bailey & Weiler Design/Build, said he hoped to start work mid-year. There’s an approval process that has to be factored in, Weiler said. That includes review by the city’s historic preservation commission and plan commission.

Wisler, who the day before, had been re-elected as chair of the plan commission, told The Square Beacon he would have to recuse himself when the project comes in front of the commission.

Wisler and Trotzke will be moving SproutBox, their venture capital firm, into the newly rehabbed building. Wisler will also move his company, Periodic, into the new space. Periodic offers an e-booking platform-as-a-service.

There could be room for additional tenants beyond the ownership group, but the Kiln Collective venture will not need to lease out space in order to make the financing work, according to Wisler.

By year’s end, Wisler wants to be moved into the new space. Is that timeline maybe a little ambitious? “We’re nothing, if not ambitious,” Wisler replied.

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Mike Trotzke (left) gets a key to the kiln building from Don Griffin, president of Bloomington’s redevelopment commission. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)