Crossposted from the Herald-Times, this is The Mill’s regular column, written this month by John Fernandez, Senior Vice President for Innovation and Strategic Partnerships. 

Last month, Pat East’s column referenced the Trades District development as one of The Mill’s top 5 priorities for 2024. Today, we’re going to take a deeper dive on how this visionary project is shaping Bloomington’s future.

What is the Trades District?
The Trades District is a 12-acre innovation hub carved out of the former Showers Brothers Furniture factory site. Showers Brothers Furniture, once a national powerhouse, pioneered innovative furniture-making techniques and employed a massive workforce. The Trades District is poised to carry that torch of innovation forward, not with wood and nails, but with cutting-edge technology and groundbreaking ideas.

Nestled in the heart of Bloomington, what started as a vision to create a hub for creativity and entrepreneurship is now a bustling ecosystem of ideas and collaboration. It’s a place where dreamers and doers come together to turn ideas into reality. As we reflect on the journey so far, it’s evident that the Trades District is not just a development project; it’s a catalyst for change and a beacon of opportunity.

Today, we’re seeing that vision come to life before our very eyes. At the heart of the Trades District lies The Mill, our region’s center of entrepreneurship designed to nurture and support new businesses and entrepreneurs. Here, individuals with bold ideas and ambitious dreams find the resources and guidance they need to turn their vision into reality. In its short 5-year history, The Mill has garnered well-deserved recognition as the epic center of entrepreneurship for our region.

The Mill isn’t just a workspace; it’s a community—a place where innovators come together to learn, grow, and thrive. Walk through The Mill, and you’ll be greeted by a buzzing atmosphere of creativity and progress. From cutting-edge startups to established businesses, there’s a palpable sense of energy that permeates the air.

The Forge
Swing by the Trades District and you will see that construction is well underway on The Forge, a brand new, class A office building. This $12.8 million, 22,000-square-foot office building boasts not just functionality but also eco-friendliness, with roof top solar power, a green roof and sustainably sourced finishes throughout the building. The City of Bloomington committed $9.3 million to this new facility and the US EDA provided an additional $3.5 million. IU’s Public Policy Institute estimates that this investment in the Trades District will create 530 jobs and generate an additional $51 million in private investment over ten years. This impressive modern building will be ready for tenants by the end of 2024.

The target list for businesses is equally impressive. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, cybersecurity, defense tech, biotech, creative arts – these are just a few of the cutting-edge industries the Trades District hopes to attract. This focus aligns perfectly with Bloomington’s existing strengths, Indiana University’s expertise and NSWS Crane’s cutting-edge technologies, creating powerful synergies.

The Trades District Hotel
Adding to the excitement, the city is poised to select a developer to build a new hotel in The Trades District. This $35 million hotel project will bring Bloomington its first full-service hotel, providing new lodging, food and beverage amenities, and meeting spaces, further solidifying the district as a destination for business, innovation and collaboration. If approved, the Trades District Hotel could be open for business by the end of 2026.

As we look to the future, it’s clear that the Trades District is poised for even greater success. The Mill continues to market the additional 4.5 acres of shovel ready properties to potential development partners prepared to invest in our vision for a modern vibrant tech hub. With each new development and initiative, we are not just building structures; we are laying the foundation for a brighter, more vibrant future. The district’s commitment to sustainability and inclusivity ensures that it remains a welcoming space for all, regardless of background or experience. The Mill has assembled an impressive advisory board – a dream team packed with heavy hitters from business, academia, and government. This group provides guidance
and expertise, ensuring the Trades District caters to the diverse needs of a thriving tech hub.

The Trades District has the potential to be a game-changer for Bloomington
This project isn’t just about buildings and businesses; it’s about building a future where Bloomington thrives as a center for innovation and opportunity. It’s a future where the former home of a furniture giant becomes a bustling hub of creativity, collaboration, and progress. It’s innovation reborn, and the best part? This future is under construction right now, right here in Bloomington.

So, as we eagerly await the completion of the new office building and the selection of the developer for the hotel, let’s take a moment to celebrate how far we’ve come. The Trades District is not just a vision anymore; it’s a reality—a living, breathing testament to Bloomington’s unwavering commitment to progress and innovation. And as we continue to grow and evolve, one thing is certain: the best is yet to come.

John Fernandez is the Senior Vice President for Innovation and Strategic Partnerships at The Mill. Fernandez previously served as President Obama’s Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development and was Bloomington’s Mayor from 1996 –
2003.