For a century, the General Electric campus near downtown Fort Wayne, Indiana, served as a symbol of the city's industrial might. At its peak, in the late months of World War II, the campus employed 40% of the city's wage earners.
GE departed the campus in 2014, but the hulking structures it left behind were never razed. Now they are being reborn as an ambitious multi-stage redevelopment called Electric Works.
The first phase of construction, which started in January and is slated for completion next fall, will yield new headquarters for Indiana's largest private company, Do it Best Corp., as well as room earmarked for educational and health care facilities. Also unveiled will be Union Street Market, Northeast Indiana's first food hall and public market, featuring more than 20 merchants as well as a weekly farmer's market. A second phase of redevelopment will follow.
Fort Wayne-based Weigand Construction is serving as construction manager on the redevelopment of 10 existing West Campus buildings encompassing about 730,000 square feet, all on a fast-track schedule, said CEO Larry Weigand.
"Bringing together all the financing partners took a little longer than what we wanted," he said. "We also committed to some of the tenants, like Do it Best, which needed to be in by the end of 2022. That caused a compression of the schedule."
Staging materials and equipment on the dense urban site near a residential area proved another challenge. All construction materials are initially delivered to and pulled together in an East Campus bullpen, then escorted to the correct buildings on the West Campus on an as-needed basis, said Weigand Project Manager Cody Michaud.
Federal and state historic tax credits helped make the $286 million first phase possible. That means the National Park Service and Indiana State Historic Preservation Office must regularly monitor the work. "We built that into the schedule," Michaud said.
"You have to treat that as a procurement lead time. We work hand in hand with the owner's historic tax credit consultant, Heritage Consulting," he said. "They visit the job site monthly and walk the job with us every month to make sure what's being installed is in accordance with the tax credit dollars."
Given the COVID-19-era materials shortages, Weigand Construction went to considerable lengths to pre-purchase materials, such as electrical conduit and piping structures.
"Items we knew had a material lead time were pre-purchased," Michaud said. "All the light fixtures for the large buildings were pre-purchased, as were the plumbing fixtures."
At every turn, Weigand Construction and Durham, N.C.-based developer Ancora have sought to ensure the reinvigorated campus will boast plenty of nods to the site's history. For decades, the illuminated General Electric logo, known by many as "the gumball," had towered brightly over the campus. GE carted away the gumball in 2015 after the buildings were sold. But a new illuminated Electric Works sign, alongside a Do it Best sign, will be installed atop one of the buildings as a link to the past.
"You will be able to see them from miles away," Weigand said. "That was intentional."
The restoration of the masonry blanketing 120,000 square feet of vertical wall is such a major component of the work that Weigand split the restoration between companies headquartered in Fort Wayne, Warsaw, Indiana, and Lima, Ohio that specialize in historic projects involving masonry, Weigand said.
"There are not a lot of tradesmen working in this process, and they are in demand all over the Midwest. To have the right amount of work done, we had to divide the work," he said. "Because it was a compressed schedule for this critical task, we had to work on multiple elevations of multiple buildings at the same time."
Windows were an enormous component of the original buildings, and thanks to historic window replacement they will be just as critical an element of the redevelopment. The new windows Wiegand Construction teams are installing are exact reproductions of the original windows, and will have the highest R-value of the entire wall system.
In another nod to history, Electric Works will feature entertainment options that include a revitalized and modernized gymnasium and bowling alley, which were part of the recreational offerings in the "GE Club" built in 1927 for GE's workers.
The selection of Weigand Construction to manage the project made sense given the company's deep Fort Wayne roots and its experience in past adaptive reuse projects. Founded in 1906, Weigand Construction is a $300 million-a-year company that has expanded beyond Northeast Indiana to Michigan and Ohio.
A specialist in health care, wellness, education, industrial and commercial construction, the company built award-winning Parkview Field, home of the city's Class A Minor League Baseball team, which is credited with helping spark the city's downtown renaissance in the last 15 years.
Weigand Construction also has helmed major adaptive reuse projects in the downtown district, including redevelopment of the historic Embassy Theatre and adjacent Indiana Hotel. A final consideration in its selection was the company's aggressive approach to project safety.
"Our [mission statement] is that 'We build landmarks that impact the lives and communities that we serve,'" Weigand, the company's fourth-generation CEO, said. "There couldn’t be a better fit than this project, because this will generationally impact lives and communities."