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(Beloit) By Jim Leute, Gazette

A long-term lease with a Stoughton manufacturer who wants to expand is the catalyst for a $40 million renovation of the Ironworks campus in Beloit. Universal Acoustic & Emission Technologies, a global designer and manufacturer of acoustic and emissions products for the power generation, oil and gas, industrial and original equipment markets, announced Tuesday that it has signed a 12-year lease for 106,000 square feet of the Ironworks campus in Beloit. Universal already leases about 30,000 square feet at the Ironworks. With the new lease, it has an option for an additional 67,000 square feet for expansion.

Mark Membrino is vice president of Hendricks Commercial Properties, which owns the 750,000-square-foot Ironworks campus. He said the complex is undergoing an extensive renovation to make Ironworks a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility. "It's a whole new way of thinking for us, and we're really committed to making it state-of-the-art," he said, noting that the complex will get new windows, flooring, lighting, electrical and other amenities designed to complement advanced manufacturers and the notion that manufacturing is no longer dark, dirty and dangerous. "We wouldn't be able to do this without the long-term commitment from Universal."

The Ironworks campus sits on the banks of the Rock River in the heart of Beloit's downtown, which is referred to locally as "City Center." For nearly 150 years, the site was home to Beloit Corp., which made papermaking machines. Beloit Corp. ultimately struggled and closed its doors in 1999, putting nearly 2,000 people out of work. Ken and Diane Hendricks bought the property in 2001 and the next year started a renovation of the complex they named Ironworks.

Former office buildings, the foundry and various manufacturing and storage areas were transformed into loft offices and manufacturing space while retaining the building's original character.  The Hendrickses, through their development company, then commissioned a local artist to create the "Forged on the Rock" murals that honor the history and the people of Beloit Corp.

The Ironworks development is now home to 15 businesses that occupy more than 400,000 square feet. The remaining space is being leased for office and manufacturing use as the renovated space becomes available."The project really has reached critical mass," Membrino said. Hendricks Commercial Properties, which manages and owns more than 15 million square feet of real estate properties in 39 states, will divide the campus into three sections.

The north section will be for heavy manufacturing, the southern end will be dedicated to light commercial businesses, and the western portion will continue to be used for office space, Membrino said. American Aluminum Extrusion uses about 100,000 square feet of the manufacturing space in the northern section. By the time Universal fills its space, little room will be available for manufacturing, he said.

"I'm getting calls all the time from people who need manufacturing space, and there just isn't any," Membrino said, echoing comments economic development officials and developers recently made about the Beloit and Janesville markets. "Things are definitely happening again, and the response in the marketplace has been incredible. I can't remember when I've ever been busier."

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