Potential buyer passes for now on Showers admin building in Bloomington’s Trades District

The old Showers Company administration building at 10th and Morton will not be purchased by Fine Tune from Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC)—at least not under an agreement inked last year.

An accord approved by the RDC in mid-August of 2021 had set up the prospect for the deal. There was no requirement in the agreement that a purchase be completed.

If the deal had come to fruition, Fine Tune would have purchased the building and parking lot to the north for $400,000, after a period to assess the feasibility of converting the building to serve as its corporate headquarters.

At the start of the Feb. 21 meeting of the five-member RDC, commissioner David Walter got confirmation from Bloomington’s director of economic and sustainable development, Alex Crowley, that Fine Tune had decided not to proceed.

Crowley told The B Square that Fine Tune’s decision was due to the increased costs for the construction and rehabilitation of the building, associated with pandemic-induced supply chain issues and construction premiums.

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.

Crowley told The B Square that Fine Tune had a great vision for the building, as a corporate headquarters, that was aligned with Bloomington’s own vision for the structure.

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.

Technically, it was not the corporate entity of Fine Tune that struck the agreement with the RDC. The RDC’s agreement was signed by an entity called 601 North Morton, LLC, which was established by Fine Tune’s executives Rich Ham and Matt Smith. Ham and Smith are CEO and CFO, respectively, of Fine Tune.

In August of last year, about the Showers administration building, 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.”

The sheer cost to realize the vision was something that was too big a challenge, Crowley said. “In the end, they didn’t want to deliver something they couldn’t be proud of and that we wouldn’t be proud of,” Crowley said. He added, “It’s not completely dead. Hopefully there’s going to be some suppression of some of these premium costs.”

But Crowley said in the short term it was better for Fine Tune to to free itself from a pending obligation, which also frees up the building for other potential buyers.

About the building, Crowley told The B Square, “The city has the luxury of being patient.”

It was 2014 when the property was first offered for sale. The planned purchase price of $400,000 that Fine Tune had negotiated is below the 2013 appraised value of the property.

Crowley is still sanguine about the prospects that the city will eventually find a developer for the property. “Obviously, we want to see that building activated,” Crowley said. He continued, “It’s a gateway to the Trades District. It’s a beautiful building—the interior is beautiful.” People have come with all kinds of proposals, he said.

In the meantime, the nearby site of a planned technology center, at the now vacant southwest corner of Maker Way and Madison Street, could inject some construction activity into the Trades District.  The planned technology center will be funded in part by a grant from the federal Economic Development Administration, and in part from tax increment finance (TIF) revenue.

At the Feb. 21 RDC meeting, Crowley said there was ongoing back and forth about the design services agreement for the technology center. It’s possible that the agreement for the building design would be in front of the RDC for approval at its next meeting, Crowley said.

The next RDC meeting is set for March 7.

The technology center site plan will eventually need to appear on the plan commission’s regular meeting agenda. It already appeared as a preview on the “lunch session” plan commission agenda of Feb. 8.

The “lunch sessions” apparently take place on the Tuesday after a Monday plan commission meeting. The proper notice to the public for the Feb. 8 lunch meeting is subject of a pending records request that has been made to the city of Bloomington.