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|All images provided by Wightman Petrie|
Kevin Smith refers to the south end of downtown South Bend as the Renaissance District. This may sound like hyperbole until you hear the plans for the Union Station Technology Center—which he owns under the name Union Station Properties—next to Coveleski Regional Stadium. Across the tracks to the south is an old seven-story Studebaker assembly plant containing a million square feet of space in which Smith, founder and president of Global Access Point, will expand the technology hub he started at Union Station.
What gives Smith the confidence to embark on such a bold expansion plan?
“First of all, the foresight of the City of South Bend to enter into this partnership is huge. This project would not have happened without the City’s involvement. We are taking a leadership role, but this is a true partnership, and the City was willing to create a whole new paradigm. It’s an equal partnership based on mutual accountability,” said Smith.
|Schematic showing Union Station Technology Center expansion plans|
The South Bend Redevelopment Commission has approved $8.3 million to remove asbestos and lead paint from the site, repair the façade, stabilize the structure and upgrade the site’s power systems. In return, Union Station Properties has promised to invest a minimum of $10 million in the building over the next 10 years, with $3.5 million of that personally guaranteed by Smith.
“The City recognized what it takes to allow successful businesses to expand and therefore stay in our community,” Smith continued. “The reason we are bullish is that we have had 40–50 percent growth consistently in the last four to five years, with no sales force. That tells us we are solving core problems that exist across the country, not just locally. We are on the fiber backbone, and we have a crisp pulse on digital enterprise and where digital commerce is going. We fulfill a definitive need.”
Digital enterprise foundation for future growth
Response to the initial plans brought validation from national and global players in the industry, further fueling the sense of necessity and confidence.
“We see what we do as foundational, not specialized. And we believe the 21st-century economic engine will be fueled in large part by technology and computing. We serve the current needs related to today’s computing, but what we do is still foundational for anything that comes out tomorrow,” Smith said. “We are knocking down barriers and making South Bend a very compelling place to locate high-tech initiatives. We provide a large quantity of readily available space, large quantities of very efficient energy and huge quantities of connectivity. Businesses in the Renaissance District will have easy access to very sophisticated systems.”
Core ecosystem for innovation
|View from Coveleski Stadium|
“We are looking at this as a platform approach,” said Nick Easley, director of strategic initiatives for Union Station Technology Center. “We are building the core ingredients needed for innovation. We are becoming a hub which will provide many high-growth opportunities from the enterprise layer, private cloud layers, public cloud layers or with carriers. The platform is an ecosystem approach.”
Smith added, “This is a strategy that we have used before and is not new to us.”
The initial phases of work will start soon, according to Smith. “We took the money that would have normally gone into a demolition and put it into a productive transformation, ultimately saving the City money. Work on the façade will start mid-year, with a substantial amount of the work done by the end of this year,” he said. “There will be a noticeable facelift for the south end of our downtown, and we see it as a gateway to Ignition Park and the southern initiatives that the City has already invested in. We will be spending a considerable amount of money on energy systems and infrastructure, and are looking for major improvements to be in place by September.”
There currently are several tenant companies residing in the Studebaker building. “We will be working with the existing companies in the building to improve their spaces,” Smith said. “It would go against our principles to vacate those businesses. We are working individually with them to find out how we can make them more successful. Our customers’ success yields our success.”
Multiple green benefits
Transforming a legacy building isn’t the only green benefit. Beyond the primary function of computing, computers are like big electric heaters. Capitalizing on this allows for an advancement of the concept that has been used to heat Potawatomi Greenhouse & Conservatories with energy from computers. “We have discovered a way to take that electric heat, capture it, put it into liquid and share it amongst many buildings,” Smith said. “This will allow us to share this heat with buildings within our district. This will reduce their energy demand and cost. We are going through the discovery stage regarding how we would work with the utilities. Presuming that can all be worked out, we will give LEED credits. We want South Bend to be known as a green community.”
And clearly, a city working toward an economic renaissance.