baldus ash

Building Impressions: Collaborative Downtown Development

Scott Franko is a solutions provider for business, brand and image through his firm, Franko Design Concepts and Consulting. He formerly owned and operated a multi-division sign, graphics and custom fabrication business. You can locate and contact him online at www.FrankoDesign.com

Great things can happen when people work together toward a common cause. That's the goal and the beauty of collaboration. In the heart of downtown in Fort Wayne, Indiana, there is an ongoing collaboration that is bringing about revival, vitality and vibrancy. People are working together to make it a great place to live, work and play—and to make it visually attractive. The Ash Skyline Plaza is an example.

            The Ash Skyline Plaza is a state-of-the-art building that takes up an entire city block in the new world headquarters for the Ash Brokerage Corporation, the anchor entity that built it. It also functions as a multi-use multi-tenant complex that incorporates a parking garage, restaurants, and a variety of businesses.

            Ash Brokerage Corporation could have gone anyplace when looking for a new corporate office. But they chose to stay in Fort Wayne. By choosing to build a new facility downtown, they become a driving catalyst of future development, like a planned 15-story mixed-use residential complex that is in the works. The downtown of Fort Wayne has already been undergoing significant positive change and transformation from other redevelopment projects. 

            The new Ash Skyline Plaza building itself is a work of art. It's a true building impression. And it would not have been possible without a strong and committed coalition or alliance consisting of both the public and private sectors working together in collaboration to make it all a reality. At the center of that collaboration ring was a team of designers, architects, builders, and a specialized sign company—The Baldus Company.

            The Baldus Company is a fourth-generation owned business that began in 1950. Today the organization is run and owned by brothers George and Hugh Baldus. There are 10 people currently on staff who contribute to their high-end projects.

            "We place a high emphasis on design and material quality in all our projects," says George when we talked recently about his company and their involvement in The Ash Skyline project. "Project management, excellent communication and a team approach are the keys to our success."

            When asked how he got involved with The Ash Skyline project, he said it was similar to how they get into many of their projects; through a solid reputation of providing top-notch branding solutions and their relationships. The combination opens doors and brings opportunities.

In this case, the project was so large, so complex, so important, so involved, with so many needs for branding, signage and visual display, that a team of experts was necessary to take concepts to completion. Due to their reputation, track record and portfolio, as well as their relationships, George Baldus was able to get a seat at the table and join the conversation, then position themselves for an opportunity to take part in the project.

            "We were invited to participate early on in some of the meetings where ideas were first being generated," George told me as he explained how the process unfolded.       "At those meetings, we were able to provide valuable insights and input that only a group with proven experience can do. This allowed us to earn respect and be taken seriously by other participants and stakeholders. They saw that somebody like us was going to be very necessary in order for those ideas to become reality."

            Although Baldus Company had the privilege of knowing about the project in its earlier phases and gave some meaningful input for the branding parts of it, the company still had to earn the right to do the work through a bid process that included an equipment plan to prove how they would fulfill the production and perform the complicated, or at minimal a very difficult installation of all the items that ranged from primary identification signs to parking signs, directories, interior signs, graphics and displays. In the end, they had to beat out eight other invited bidders.

            By demonstrating an ability to perform, having competitive pricing, and being able to provide samples, the Baldus Company went from being a contributor in the conversation to being the source for the concepts from start to finish. And working with a ticking clock keeping time to project goals and deadlines. But building impressions is seldom easy, if ever. The Baldus Company was used to this kind of pressure, as many of you are when it comes to major sign projects in a downtown district.

            As I stated, many great works require a collaboration. This major development for Fort Wayne's inner city region brought together participants from both public and private entities working together with positive energy and enthusiasm.

            This particular collaboration brought together a team that included the planning people from the city, designers from RLR Associates, architects from MSKTD and Associates working for Ash Brokerage Corporation, architects including HOCH Associates working for the city's parking garage project that is connected, Weigand Construction and Baldus Company with their specialized suppliers and sub-contractors that all helped execute different phases of the design-build process.

            "The project was bigger than any (sign) company could do," said George when referring the collaboration and assistance he and his company received from their outsourced partners for the project that included custom fabrication, custom LED lighting, electricians and a series of cranes and lifting equipment necessary for the installations.

            "Some of the goals of the signage and visual elements were to be consistent with use of materials, maintain comprehensive design elements, and create a cohesive yet impressive environment. The aesthetics effect should be a pleasing and inviting visual experience of the brand(s) involved with The Ash Skyline Plaza."

            The sign systems included signs for outside and inside the nine-story world-class structure and adjoining parking garage. The signage themes and materials developed by RLR were highly themed and specified to include polished aluminum and stainless steel, white acrylic and LEDs, a "leaf motif" and color coding for the building's north and south tower delineations. Colored LED lighting was also incorporated into the steel parking garage screening panels.

            "The ash tree became a common brand element for a lot of the signage involved," George told me as he explained some of the facets of the project.

            "RLR worked closely with the owner and architect to create environmental graphics consistent with the spaces where they would be applied. Strong color identity reinforced thru entry graphics, directories and parking levels. One particular part of the branding worth pointing out are the 17-feet-tall polished aluminum tree logos that we produced and installed onto the glass entry canopy and terrace facades making them an indelible and impressive imprint."

            Besides the signs created for The Ash Skyline building, Baldus has also been able to work with nine other building tenants by helping them with their signage and branding needs that had to stay within the design guidelines for continuity of look, type, make and material.

            There is a significant benefit to working hard to become the branding expert in your community, like Baldus Company has done in theirs. That is partly what it takes to land a project as significant as the The Ash Skyline, or something else of that magnitude. The works starts before you land the job. Then when those opportunities come around, you have a better chance with being a part of them and joining the collaboration. When you do, your reputation grows, as does your portfolio of building impressions