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Page last updated on February 17, 2020 at 9:30 am

Good afternoon members of the Historic Preservation Commission.  I have had the honor of appointing many of you to this important and hard-working city commission and I thank you for your service to the community that you love and shepherd.

Twenty-five years ago the City, as part of a public/private partnership and community investment initiative, launched a plan to purchase the long-neglected campus of a once-mighty furniture company. The aim was to repurpose a collection of buildings that embodied Bloomington’s industrial past and rejuvenate an area that had sat underutilized and underappreciated for many decades. 

The first step taken was the historic rehabilitation of Plant # 1 (City Hall) in the 1990s, a project that preserved the historic Showers Brothers factory building and met rigorous federal standards and now has become a Gold LEED-certified building. The $2.5 million purchase price seems like a bargain today, even though it took another $28million to complete the renovation of the 200,000 square foot facility. By the time the project was complete, it had come to be known as “The Miracle on Morton Street”.  It is also interesting to remember that the space known as Showers Common where we host the Farmers’ Market and many other public events once featured grain towers (removed in 1993).

In 1995 Hiron’s & Co purchased the former Showers Brothers furniture showroom known as the Sample Building and with a $3 million investment, renovated it for use as their offices, now home to Solution Tree.  

In September of 2011, the City purchased 12 acres for the Trades District, and in 2018 after about $15 million in total investment, the City facilitated the rehabilitation of The Dimension Mill, a building that was part of the Showers furniture campus, and major investments in new physical infrastructure of streets and paths and utilities. The award-winning Mill project converted an unused and derelict building into a startup incubator with working space to house Bloomington’s growing tech industry—a keystone to Bloomington’s first certified Tech Park.

With the adaptive reuse of the Kiln, and what we believe is imminent restoration and reuse of the Admin building, we have an opportunity to once again validate the progressive idea that historic preservation can and should contribute to the continuity and economic wellbeing of our community.  

Two years ago, the City approached the HPC to evaluate the possibility of removing the Kiln. That is, while we expected (and expect) reuse of the Admin Building, based on market feedback, we believed the Kiln likely would not find an investor for re-use. But today we are pleased and excited to have an opportunity that allows us to not just save the building, but to refit and repurpose it, thereby cementing the building’s future and reactivating it as a valuable contributor to Bloomington’s economic vitality.

Converting the Kiln into commercial space will be synergistic with The Mill because the proximity of the Kiln makes it an ideal space for businesses in The Mill to grow into as they expand. Also, the Kiln creates a great opportunity for retail and restaurant spaces to complement the energy generated by the existing brewery on the opposite side of 11th Street. The utilization of the building as commercial space just makes sense for the city and the area.  It also represents the first of what we anticipate will be many private (i.e., non-municipal) investments in the Trades District.

But the adaptive reuse of the Kiln into commercial space poses different, and perhaps more difficult, challenges than those earlier projects. The building was not constructed to house workers, but to dry lumber. It does not have any windows or any facilities to accommodate a workforce; therefore, compared to the previous Shower campus rehabilitation projects, the adaptive reuse of the Kiln will require more substantial changes to the building itself because it was not designed with the light and space necessary for human activity.

Finally, the optimal outcome here is for the Kiln to be used, not to sit vacant or be demolished. I appreciate your expertise in advising on the design of additions and alterations to this historic building; however, I would ask that you also consider what it requires from an investment standpoint to make this rehab project work. This is an incredible opportunity for our community which also has a major financial stake in this entire area. The challenge here is to balance our ambitions for the future of our community while respecting its past, and my urgent hope and encouragement is that both the HPC and the Kiln Collective will work together to find a feasible solution that activates and gives new life to this very difficult building, honoring its past and connecting it to the exciting future of the Trades District. The spirit of The Miracle on Morton is alive and well in the Trades District of 2020 and beyond.

One personal suggestion is that we create a curated series of historic markers / boards, interpretive signage, that can show the historic role, and the whole flow in the old Showers complex, from Kiln to Mill to Factory, etc.