A Welcome Neighbor: Renaissance District Update

For half a century, Studebaker defined South Bend. The former auto manufacturer occupied a massive 140-acre complex, employing 22,000 people at its height. But, in 1963, Studebaker closed, leaving behind a 30% loss in population. Instead of this bustling global manufacturer lifting South Bend, its empty buildings looming over the city reminded people of “what used to be.”

Fast forward to today. Visually, one can see that a renaissance, or rebirth, is happening in the neighborhood just south of downtown South Bend. In fact, this 80-block area is coined the Renaissance District, and includes the vast Studebaker complex and Four Winds Field. At the heart of the Renaissance District is the former Studebaker plant, which is being redeveloped into spaces the next generation of innovators will call home. With Studebaker’s 1.3 million square feet of reborn industrial space, it’s tapped to become the Midwest’s largest mixed-use technology campus.

In 2012, entrepreneur, creative thinker and business owner Kevin Smith announced his vision to turn the Studebaker complex into a world-class technology hub. Years earlier, Smith took the old rail depot at Union Station and converted it into an integrated platform of advanced space, power and connectivity. “I chose to continue my investment in the community and take the lessons learned and apply them ‘at scale’ to one of the most challenged areas in the community,” said Smith.

Like many other communities such as Durham, North Carolina, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he, too, believed it was possible to take more than a million square feet of dilapidated factory space and develop it into offices, conference spaces, co-working areas, training rooms, labs, data centers and residences.

The redevelopment includes four phases, with an estimated investment of $166 million, and may take a decade or more to complete.

Phase 1 is divided into two parts, with the first part completed in June 2017, and included comprehensive site preparation, stabilization, build-out and parking for Building 112 and 113. This first part created more than a quarter million square feet of high-tech space, and half of this space is already occupied.

The second part of Phase 1 is underway, and includes restoration and reinvention of the Studebaker Train Dock, future parking for the entire campus and a sophisticated restoration of the exterior on the six-story Building 84.

As one of the largest man-made structures in Northern Indiana, the adaptive reuse of the enormous Building 84 will cement the Renaissance District as the largest mixed-used technology center in the Midwest. Proposed for the structure includes a 5-star hotel, restaurants, event center and a rich population of high-tech entrepreneurs and companies.

Studebaker Buildings 112 and 113, part of Phase 1, are two-story structures that have seen the most progress. City, state and federal investment is approximately $14.6 million, with Smith’s personal investment of over $54 million.

The south side of Building 113 shows off a new façade. Walking into the building, you are struck by its sheer enormity and industrial chic vibe. You see concrete floors and businesses separated by floor to ceiling glass accentuated with metal railings, steps, fixtures and hardware to maintain the factory-like environment. The building’s columns and concreate floors are original.

Companies like enFocus, Trek10, South Bend Code School, F Cubed, CupPrint and South Bend City Church are early tenants. A new space for Purdue PolyTechnic is currently being prepared. The west wing of Building 113 will be known as the International Thought Institute (ITI) where training will take place.

Building 113’s infrastructure can support companies needing large amounts of space, power and connectivity. “It is unmatched in the area,” said Smith. “The perfect tenant would be able to tap into all three.” The anticipated density of people, open concept and co-working areas are designed to enhance collaboration among like-minded people.

“I love the story and wanted to be a part of the renewal of the city. It adds more meaning to the company,” said Andy Warzon, president of Trek10, on why they chose to locate in Building 113. Trek10 consultants are experts in implementing and supporting Amazon web services (AWS) for clients around the country.

Smith added, “This is not just a tract of land with abandoned buildings from an age gone by. This is a global opportunity where a new way of thinking is born out of the inspired legacy and the valuable assets that some of this nation’s most innovative ancestors left behind. It’s a promise kept by today’s most-innovative men and women who are creating a technology–infused ecosystem that will propel a renaissance in modern innovation. And at the heart of it all, sitting atop one of the richest concentrations of dark fiber in the United States, is the Renaissance District.”

No longer an eye sore, the Studebaker complex is redefining the South Bend Region, adding to an up-and-coming revitalized, technology-focused neighborhood.