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Retaking the Rust Belt

Across the Midwest, new life is being breathed into old industrial facilities that are becoming home to IoT incubators, office space, and other mixed-use development.

Q2 2018
The IoT Lab in Fishers, Ind., is bringing together the emerging IoT sector with Indiana’s key
industries, including manufacturing, agriculture, and logistics.
The IoT Lab in Fishers, Ind., is bringing together the emerging IoT sector with Indiana’s key industries, including manufacturing, agriculture, and logistics.
As the scale of manufacturing in the Midwest has decreased, the role of the remaining real estate many times has not. Cities across the Rust Belt like Muncie, Indiana — the subject of the Middletown Studies — are filled with abandoned warehouses and plants that no longer serve a purpose. However, this is not necessarily the case for other Midwest metros.

In comparison, just 30 miles south of Muncie is a former manufacturing facility that has recently found new life as the first city-funded Internet of Things (IoT) incubator in the U.S. But the Indiana IoT lab is just one example of old becoming new again. Because users and consumers are evolving and demanding something different, the appetite for these unique assets is ravenous.

Across these industrial towns and cities, you will find Midwesterners taking pride in their past by breathing life back into the facilities that the economy had left behind. That being said, conversion of these warehouses and plants is not for the faint of heart, as older industrial spaces have their own set of unique issues. While sound in structure and rooted in history, not all buildings are a turnkey process, as base plumbing and electric systems often need to be revisited. In addition, these spaces can typically present environmental hazards as with lead-based paint and asbestos. Luckily, Midwesterners have never shied away from rolling up their sleeves and getting a little dirty. Thus, all across the Rust Belt we’re seeing unexpected innovation happening in old manufacturing facilities that will succeed even as technology advances.

Take spaces such as Electric Works in Fort Wayne, the Detroit Foundation Hotel, the Bottleworks District in Indianapolis, the Cleveland Aquarium, and now the Indiana IoT lab in Fishers, which will all breed new life for the future.

Innovative Re-Use of Midwest Facilities

New life is being breathed into old industrial facilities across the Midwest.
  1. Indiana IoT lab

    Fishers, IN

    Indiana’s first IoT lab is driving innovation across Indiana’s key industries, including manufacturing, agriculture, and logistics

  2. Bottleworks District

    Wayne Township, IN

    The former Indianapolis Coca-Cola bottling plant is being recreated by Hendricks Commercial into a $300 million, mixed-use development on the already “hot” cultural district, Massachusetts Ave.

  3. Cleveland Aquarium

    Cleveland, OH

    A building originally named Powerhouse — a Cleveland icon that once served the purpose of managing and controlling electric streetcars and railways — has found new purpose by re-opening its doors in 2012 as the Cleveland Aquarium.

  4. Electric Works

    Fort Wayne, IN

    The abandoned GE factory in Fort Wayne, Indiana, will house converted loft apartments, incubator startup office spaces, a food hall, and more.

  5. Detroit Foundation Hotel

    Detroit, MI

    In a five-year renovation project, the former Detroit Fire Department facility, built in 1929, has been transformed into creative space that is seen as a hangout for locals and out-of-town guests.

Fishers, Indiana, Internet of Things Lab
Once housing equipment to make honing stones and machine shop tooling, the 24,562-square-foot facility is now a thriving hub for advancements in IoT technology. Fishers, home to the state’s first Internet of Things lab, is driving innovation across Indiana’s key industries, including manufacturing, agriculture, and logistics. The goal is to bring the emerging IoT sector together with these industries for innovation and collaboration. Within the Indiana IoT Lab, entrepreneurs and businesses will have the space they need to bring the four key components of IoT solutions together: ideation, cloud data, edge hardware, and development.

Indianapolis, Indiana, Bottleworks District
From its founding in 1920, the Indianapolis Coca-Cola bottling plant was one of the showplaces of American industry, recognized for both beauty of design and efficiency of equipment. The plant was said to be the largest bottling plant in the world, producing 2.4 million bottles of Coca-Cola per week. The plant was sold to the Indianapolis public schools in 1969 and remained in their control until they sold to Hendricks Commercial in late 2017. Hendricks will be creating a $300 million, mixed-use development on the already “hot” cultural district, Massachusetts Ave — a perfect fusion of past and present encompassing 12 acres of robust arts, culture, industrial architecture, entertainment, eateries, residences, shopping, and one-of-a-kind progressive office space.

Cleveland Aquarium
Originally named Powerhouse, the now known Cleveland icon once served the purpose of managing and controlling electric streetcars and railways. The power plant was the first of its kind for the city and expanded in 1901 due do its initial demand. But, like so many other industrial areas, with the rise of innovation (in this case automobiles), the Powerhouse no longer served a purpose and closed its doors following the “Roaring 20s.” After remaining dormant for nearly a quarter of a century, the building found new purpose by re-opening its doors in 2012 as the Cleveland Aquarium, housing aquatic wildlife ranging from sharks to jellyfish.

Fort Wayne, Indiana, Electric Works
Rather than letting a large, viable space sit and rot for years to come, innovation from within is what will attract new talent and industry to a not-yet-forgotten manufacturing city. The abandoned GE factory in Fort Wayne, Indiana, that at one time employed almost 40 percent of the city’s workforce has found a new purpose. Converted loft apartments, incubator startup office spaces, and a food hall are just the tip of the iceberg with this building. Fort Wayne has lofty aspirations to transform and rejuvenate the city of 260,000, since it has seen a decline in population and stagnant wages ever since manufacturing jobs left in 1980s. In addition to the city’s initial plans, coffee shops, condominiums, and farm-to-table dining options have been added into the downtown area. According to The Wall Street Journal, with the inclusion and re-invention of the GE plant, Fort Wayne’s population has grown by 14 percent from 2000 to 2017.

Detroit Foundation Hotel
Built in 1929, the former Detroit Fire Department facility closed its doors and moved to a new location in 2013, according to Crain’s Detroit Business. In a five-year renovation project, the building was transformed into creative space that is seen as a hangout for locals and out-of-town guests. The hotel not only created jobs, but also highlights and supports local businesses and artists. In fact, hundreds of Detroit-area businesses and artists were involved in the creation of the hotel. The hotel lobby showcases a small retail showroom, where guests and local residents can find clothing created by local retailers. Each room also provides items for purchase from other local vendors, varying from snacks to keepsakes. While the guest gets his or her fill of Detroit history within the halls, they also have access to complimentary use of Detroit-based Detroit Bikes LLC, allowing them to capture a real sense of the city.

While the Rust Belt has seen dramatic change over the decades, the Midwest States are bringing innovation and creativity closer to home — while using their traditional roots to do so. As a result of this kind of creative thinking and innovation, these Rust Belt towns will once again find new life as booming metros that can rival any coastal city.
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