An Art Deco building in Huntington gets 'new life' as a business incubator

It’s no secret that the economy has shifted from one largely rooted in agriculture to one heavily dependant on knowledge and skills. That’s why it’s fitting that one Huntington business owner has transformed a once-functioning milk processing facility into what he hopes will be an incubator for startups.  

But why now, and why this building?

Matt Wilcox, founder and president of Apollo Caster, Inc., had outgrown his previous facility and was looking to purchase a larger one.

Apollo Caster is a distributor of small material handling goods, such as casters, wheels, ball transfers, and glides. The company has been in growth mode over the last decade, and Wilcox was eager to find a space to accommodate his expanding operations. 
Matt Wilcox, the founder of Apollo Caster, recently renovated a historic building in Huntington.
He was on the hunt for about two years before the opportunity presented itself in the form of a vacant Art Deco building at 1500 Etna Ave. The building was initially built in 1946 by the Fulton Milk Co. as a milk processing facility. It was later used by a printing company before it was vacated and sat unused for some time. 

“I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of building something new,” Wilcox says. “(This renovation) was about bringing something (old) back to life and making it new again.”

It turns out that Wilcox’s pragmatic attitude touches on something that one Indiana expert says is good for the bottom line and the planet. Jonathan Spodek is the director of the graduate program and historical preservation at Ball State University.

According to his research, it’s often more financially viable to retrofit an existing building as opposed to rebuild.

Wilcox decided to go the former route. It was really a matter of talking to the right people at the right time, he says.

January 2017 was a turning point for him. He had lunch with the Mayor of Huntington and shared his vision for the move. The Mayor offered to show him a few buildings around that time that might meet his specifications. Among them was a facility in serious disrepair. Despite the condition, Wilcox had a vision. 

“I said to the Mayor, "that is absolutely the building I want," he says. 

Wilcox introduced himself to the then owner and began discussions. By November, he had purchased the building and began the extensive renovation, which included a new roof, windows, HVAC system, wiring, and more. He was able to scrub the original glazed red brick to its full original glory—a touch that makes the interior especially eye-catching. 

The “piece de resistance,” as he calls it, was finding a period-appropriate awning similar to one used by the dairy in its heyday. Wilcox was able to serve as the general contractor and source most of the labor from local subcontractors. 

Now that the work is complete, he says he has ample room for warehousing and shipping, as well as room for future growth. 

Matt Wilcox is excited about the potential of helping a local business get off the ground.

The incubator, he says, is sort of a "byproduct" of this renovation. 

“With that, we are able to have some extra space in terms of offices,” he explains. 

The idea is that if a local business or two needs a place to “roast,” he would be able to accommodate them with some office space. Wilcox says he needs to figure out specifics regarding lease arrangements, but he’s open to discussion.

In the meantime, he’s happy about the start of a recent infrastructure project, in particular, because the timing worked out nicely. Residents are taking more pride in the Huntington community, and in general, they're interested in what he’s done with the place.

“This has put us in the spotlight more than we expected,” he says. 

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.
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