An adaptive reuse project for the old Showers Company furniture factory kiln, which sits in the Trades District north of city hall, got a formal re-start on Monday.
The re-firing of the project came at the regular meeting of Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC), which shifted some dates for the purchase agreement of the building. A group called The Kiln Collective has agreed to buy the building in a $50,000 deal.
According to Don Weiler of Bailey & Weiler Design/Build, who’s the builder on the project, the rehab of the building could start next year. The kiln sits to the north of The Mill, which is a coworking space, launched in late 2018 in the former Showers Company’s dimension mill.
The kiln is just south of 11th Street and the Upland Brewing Company.
Two and a half years ago, in early 2020, the transfer of ownership had been essentially a done deal, complete with a ceremonial handover of the keys. But a couple of months after the ceremony the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the project was put on hold.
As Bloomington’s director for economic and sustainable development Alex Crowley put it, “We put it on ice for a while.” Crowley added, “Functionally, what we’re trying to accomplish today is just clean up the dates, get this thing back in motion.”
Mike Trotzke and Brad Wisler’s venture capital firm SproutBox will be a likely tenant of the rehabbed kiln building. Both attended Monday’s RDC meeting. Troztke described the kiln as a difficult building, but worth the extra effort, because it is integral to the story of the adjoining mill.
Describing why the building makes for a difficult project, Crowley pointed to the functional purpose of the building, which served as an oven to dry out lumber. It was not ever meant for “human habitation,” Crowley said.
The project will need to go back in front of the historic preservation commission because it has changed from the plans already approved by that group. The main difference is that it’s proposed to be just a rehab of the existing one-story structure, with no additional space built on top of it. The design that had been proposed previously included two additional stories.
The revised project plan will also need to get plan commission approval. Plan commissioner Brad Wisler will have to sit out the vote, because he’s a partner in Sproutbox with Trotzke.
Other tenants of the building will include Bailey & Weiler Design/Build. Trotze said at Monday’s RDC meeting, “We think we’ll get a good building because our builders are moving into the same building as us!”
Trotzke also described The Kiln as a kind of “graduation space” for startups that begin life at The Mill’s coworking space.
Another tenant of the new space will be Soma Coffeehouse. Soma owner Bob Costello, who also owns Village Deli, is a partner in The Kiln Collective.
One feature of the purchase agreement is that it prohibits any residential use of the building for 10 years. That drew a question from RDC member Deborah Myerson: Why? RDC member Randy Cassady also picked up on the theme, noting that it’s important for people to be able to live near where they work.
Crowley pointed to the purpose of the certified tech park where the kiln building sits, and how the financial end of things works. Over their lifetime tech parks can capture up to $5 million in incremental sales and income taxes. Crowley said what Bloomington lacks is office space, and that on the tech park’s limited footprint, it is important to prioritize office space over housing.
If the kiln building gets rehabbed as now planned, that will still leave a final RDC-owned Showers Company building sitting empty—the former administration building, which fronts on Morton Street.
In August of 2021, the RDC had struck a deal, with all but the due diligence done, for a company called Fine Tune to buy the building and make it their headquarters.
But by February this year, Fine Tune had decided to pass on the administration building.