Whirlpool Reveals Plan for $35M Upgrade & Expansion at SJ Tech Center

If, as a key Whirlpool Corporation message says, “The Future Belongs To Those Who Build It,” then another major slice of the economic future of Michigan’s Great Southwest is on the verge of being nicely solidified. Cornerstone Alliance President Rob Cleveland asked the City of St. Joseph tonight to establish a public hearing for their next regular city commission meeting to approve issuance of a Commercial Rehabilitation District certificate for Whirlpool Corporation’s St. Joseph Technology Center on Upton Drive. If the commission approves such a certificate and continues to support regional transformation, the appliance giant will invest more than $35-million dollars into that Tech Center through renovation and expansion.

Cleveland was joined by Whirlpool executives Jeff Noel and Lee Utke in presenting the proposed plans for a dramatic upgrade of the aging facility which hasn’t seen an interior makeover in years, or perhaps even decades.

Noel told the commission that the company wants to continue it’s more than 15-year long investment in its employees and facilities in the headquarters communities of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph. They plan to do so through an expansion of some 90-to-100,000 square feet to the tune of $24-million in concert with an $11-million investment in state-of-the-art renovations of existing space at the Edgewater neighborhood facility.

By the end of the proposed project plan in 2020, Whirlpool will have invested $190-million in new buildings and renovations to corporate facilities in and around Benton Harbor and St. Joseph since 2011.

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No blueprint of the size and scope of this project is ever a slam dunk, and Noel cautioned commissioners to recognize that the St. Joe Tech Center project is competing internally for limited capital with other global projects including new facilities in both Italy and China. Additionally, the project hinges on a contingency that the proper support from both local officials and state of Michigan authorities fall into place.

Noel, Utke and Cleveland all called upon the City of St. Joseph to provide not only the creation of the Commercial Rehabilitation District designation and its attendant benefits such as tax abatements, but also their continued support of the regional transformation by Harbor Shores, the Edgewater Commercial & Residential Districts, and both Main Street and the Benton Harbor Arts District in the community of Benton Harbor.

They ask that because part of the three-parcel master plan for the St. Joe Tech Center includes creation of residential, commercial and commerce areas linking some 4,000 Whirlpool employees with both St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, including a new pedestrian causeway, walking and biking trails and even the potential for a water taxi to service the St. Joseph River waterfront.

The plan is a multi-year project starting this year with renovation and design getting underway in 2017 and vertical construction of the major new expansion next year. Not only will this project bring renovation to offices and lab space that haven’t seen significant remodeling in a number of years, it is also designed to enhance Whirlpool’s ability to attract and retain global talent for a broad array of disciplines.

Commissioners were glowing in their thanks to Whirlpool and Cornerstone. Mary Goff said, “The dream just keeps developing, and we’re all benefiting from your work.” Chris Heugel called the plan, “Very important to everyone in the region.” Dr. Jeff Richards told his colleagues, “Whirlpool is the fuel that makes this community run,” and addressed the multiple occasions of partnerships. Fran Chickering noted that “Whirlpool has stood by our community tremendously over the years, and this is a necessary enhancement, I know because I’ve been lost in that facility on a number of occasions.” Mayor Mike Garey summed it all up saying, “This is pretty cool!” He also echoed the fact that “When you look at the competition for Whirlpool’s money, this is a really big deal and the worldwide exposure our community gets is absolutely remarkable.”

The commission has established a public hearing on the Commercial Rehabilitation District designation for their next public meeting on Monday, June 26th.

As Cornerstone’s Rob Cleveland wrapped up the discussion he said, “This is a great day for all of us. Thank you!”