Agreement OK’d by Bloomington RDC on sale of Showers administration building

This image, looking west at the old Showers administration building, dated May 2019, is from Google’s Street View. The image links to Street View.

The administration building at 10th and Morton is the third of three old Showers Company buildings in Bloomington’s Trades District, north of city hall, that now has a possible future as an adaptive reuse project.

A process for closing a deal on the building was put in place through an agreement that was approved at Monday’s meeting of the Bloomington redevelopment commission (RDC).

The RDC’s agreement for an eventual $400,000 purchase of the administration building, and the parking lot just to the north, is with 601 North Morton, LLC. That’s the entity that has been set up by Rich Ham and Matt Smith. Ham and Smith are CEO and CFO, respectively, of a company called Fine Tune.

The old dimension mill and the kiln building are two other old Showers Company properties that the RDC has put at least on a path for redevelopment.

The dimension mill is already home to The Mill, a co-working space that launched in late 2018. A transaction was completed for the kiln building in early 2020. But the plans of the Kiln Collective have been paused by the pandemic, which has caused dramatic increases in construction prices.

Fine Tune describes itself as “a niche expense management company focused on a small handful of particularly burdensome ‘nuisance’ expenses.” Examples of nuisance expenses are services for uniforms, waste disposal, and pest control.

The building is planned to serve as the corporate headquarters for Fine Tune.

The image, looking east, is dated April 2020. It’s from the Pictometry module of Monroe County’s online property lookup system. Annotation by The B Square.

Ham told The B Square that Fine Tune is just shy of a 40-person company, with employees in different parts of the country. The Bloomington operation includes three full time employees and about three dozen interns from Indiana University’s Kelly School of Business.

Ham earned his degree from IU in journalism and political science, graduating in 1997.

The building was last occupied by Indiana University Press, before it was purchased in 2011 by the Bloomington RDC as a part of the Trades District. The building was constructed in the 1920s.

It was 2014 when the property was offered for sale, but hasn’t until now resulted in a deal, according to Bloomington assistant city attorney Larry Allen. Allen sketched out the arrangement for commissioners at the RDC’s Monday meeting.

The purchase price of $400,000 is below the 2013 appraised value of the property.

Bloomington’s director of economic and sustainable development, Alex Crowley, told The B Square that when the property was appraised in 2013, a bigger piece of real estate, which includes the two lots in Monday’s agreement, was pegged at $1.3 million. The third, northernmost lot that was a part of the $1.3 million appraisal gets a mention in Monday’s agreement—as an additional potential purchase by Ham and Smith’s company.

The $400,000 price tag counts as a part of the $2.5 million investment in the building that Ham and Smith would be required to make under Monday’s agreement.

Monday’s agreement does not finalize the purchase. There’s a 120-day feasibility period that can be extended by 60 days, during which Ham and Smith can “pursue examination of all matters relating to the property,” and determine at their sole discretion if the property is suitable for use as Fine Tune’s headquarters.

The feasibility period is one reason the celebration of a done deal would be a little premature.

But Ham told The B Square, “I’ll be so stunned if anything comes up here, that causes us to abort mission. We are so in.” Ham added, “There’s no way there’s a better fit for this.”

Part of Ham’s confidence in the project stems from local builder Loren Wood’s involvement. Wood was already familiar with the building, so there are not a lot of unknowns.

Fine Tune is nearly two decades old. Ham said, “We will hit our 20th anniversary on February 1st of next year.” The company was born in Bloomington. “I started this business with one partner in my parents’ basement over in Hyde Park on the southeast side,” Ham said.

The agreement approved on Monday calls for the renovations to start no later than a year after closing, which could be 18 months out, if the maximum feasibility period were used. Ham doesn’t think the whole feasibility period will be needed.

At Monday’s RDC meeting, Ham said he thinks it’s realistic to start working out of the renovated administration building with a team of interns from the Kelly School as early as the first semester of 2023. “Loren [Wood] has told me I’m not crazy for thinking that can be done,” Ham said.