Kevin Smith: Union Station Technology/ Studebaker Complex Renovation

By+Carri Fras

Kevin Smith’s journey as an innovator began early in his life, at a time when his father, Earl, made a bold career change, leaving behind his role as a journeyman for a company that supplied South Bend’s former Studebaker assembly plant with sheet metal. Kevin’s father, endeavoring to run his own company, elicited his teenaged son’s help and, together, they created Deluxe Sheet Metal—a business that began in their home’s small garage on Auten Road in 1971. This joint venture not only allowed Kevin to pay his way through college, but set the stage for the long and successful road of serial and parallel entrepreneurship that would ensue.

Kevin, in fact, became the first member of his family to graduate from college, completing his BA in Psychophysiology at Notre Dame in 1979. After spending time working for the Swiss government researching artificial intelligence, Kevin returned to The States where he faced a question many young, motivated grads likely face: What do I do next? For him, the answer was simple—to live his life’s purpose. He explains that purpose was the lifeblood of his visions. “I believe if you work hard and live a purposeful life, you can have a positive impact on your environment,” he says, “and that’s what’s important for me.”

Following his own mantra, he set his sights on bringing his entrepreneurial dreams to life. He first purchased the freight portion of South Bend’s historical Union Station, converting its 30,000 square-feet of old railroad express space into a home for Deluxe Sheet Metal. It was later that Kevin fell in love with the passenger portion of Union Station and selected it to be the headquarters for yet another business venture of his, Softchip Technologies, a microchip company that combined his construction and technology experience. “It’s about education, technology and construction,” he says when describing his initial vision for Softchip, “and it’s about putting those into action.”

Today, Deluxe Sheet Metal is now 46-years-old and has found a new home in the northwest region of South Bend, where it has existed since 2004. Union Station has also evolved into an impressive data center. Aptly named Union Station Technology Center, it has become one of the largest in the region. Kevin, in fact, has come a long way from that humble, two-car garage on Auten as he continues his pace for change by bringing purposefully built facilities into existence. He is now the owner of a multitude of successful businesses. Just some of that impressive list includes IOI, Global Access Point LLC, Deluxe Sheet Metal and Union Station.

His major project, however, continues to be The Union Station Technology Center and the neighboring complex that was the former Studebaker building. It is a shining example of a space that has truly kept pace with today’s technological advances, thanks to his passion and vision. Once dilapidated and inhabited by the homeless, this long-standing historical landmark that was Studebaker is now evolving into a platform for change and a beacon of opportunity in South Bend. Construction is well underway to convert it into an innovation center, complete with space for manufacturing, various firms and businesses.

By the end of the year, a two-story expansion of Union Station will be complete with an interconnection to the Studebaker building complex, where development of 60,000 square-feet of space will be fully occupied by May 1st. The two-floor expansion will provide service connections to the Studebaker building and building 84, the six-story structure that is the most dominant part of the complex that is currently being used as a warehouse.

The first phase of a building located on the south side of the property—building 113—is also slotted for development. It will be transformed into a technology office environment with 50,000 square feet to be occupied by June 1st, 2017. The entire building will be refurbished this summer as well, boasting a massive 140,000 total square feet to be leased out.

“If you throw away the past, you don’t know from whence you came,” Kevin says in recognizing that the revitalization of this building is just as much of a symbolic change as it is physical. Kevin explains this is, quite simply, how he sees the world, and this vision has no doubt been paramount to the different phases of Union Station’s and the Studebaker building’s massive reconstruction. Throughout the process, preservation through innovative and sustainable practices has certainly been the goal. Recycling old brick into the building’s new construction, incorporating a green roof and re-using waste water are just some of the ways in which Kevin is ensuring Studebaker’s revitalization will not leave a negative footprint on the environment. Additionally, he will be implementing a program to ensure the community’s homeless will also have a place to turn for housing and other services.

Although the project–which includes over a million square-feet of rehabbed space–has been a monumental undertaking, the old Studebaker complex will shine again—thanks to Kevin’s entrepreneurial spirit, modern-day vision and drive to pursue his life’s purpose. “In America, you have the opportunity to do so much,” he says. “You may not be able to, but the opportunity is there.”

 

What three things does Kevin have to have in any space he occupies? 

Light, sight and energy.