11 may 15 | South Bend Tribune

South Bend Renaissance District plans unveiled

by Margaret Fosmoe 

Renovation of former Studebaker complex to start soon

It’s been decades since the glow of electric lighting poured through the hundreds of windows in the massive former Studebaker auto assembly plant at the south edge of downtown.

But that’s what an architect envisions in renderings for the upcoming renovation of the 800,000-square-foot complex, part of a Renaissance District that owner Kevin M. Smith is planning.

“We’re looking by fall to see the first tenants move in,” said Smith, a South Bend native and chief executive officer of Union Station Technology Center.

Another drawing shows a glass-topped atrium that will be created in a courtyard area of the complex on South Lafayette Boulevard. The space is slated to contain trees and plants and will be warmed by excess heat from computers operating in the adjacent buildings. (The “courtyard” was created by a partial roof collapse during the blizzard of 1978.)

Smith released the first architectural renderings over the weekend.

The images were developed by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture (AS+GG), based in Chicago. The firm works on projects around the globe, including Kingdom Tower, a skyscraper under construction in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, that is expected to be the world’s tallest building when it is completed in 2020.

The project in South Bend calls for a massive renovation to transform the vacant complex into a busy business, research, data, education and residential center. It is expected to contain offices, secure data storage, commercial/restaurant space and residential condos.

Smith describes a bright and high-tech future for the former factory building, which ceased production when Studebaker Corp. shut down operations here in December 1963.

It’s the last major Studebaker assembly building still standing in the city. In recent years, the building — known as Ivy Tower — has been mostly used for leased storage of autos, boats and industrial supplies.

Renovation work will start in earnest this summer. Smith said he will hire local construction firms, and the project will create hundreds of construction jobs.

Smith owns 10 companies, including Deluxe Sheet Metal and six others that are located on the city’s northwest side. He plans to move those companies to the Renaissance District as the renovation proceeds. “I’m looking to consolidate all my businesses downtown,” he said. Completion of the entire project could take a decade, he said. He plans to spend in excess of $17.5 million on the work.

The project is a major expansion of Smith’s Union Station Technology Center high-tech hub that has long operated in the former city train station on South Street.

Plans for the project will be shown to an international audience on Tuesday in Beijing, China.

Gov. Mike Pence is leading a delegation of Indiana business leaders to China this week on an international jobs and economic development mission. They plan to spread the word about about business and technology opportunities in Indiana.

The Renaissance District project in South Bend will be featured during an event Tuesday in Beijing. The director of Chinese operations for AS+GG and Shane Fimbel, chief operating officer for Union Station Technology Center, will be there to explain the project.