Metro-East News

Back to the future: Belleville’s new business development center to open

Peer 151’s executive director Chris Oswald, left, and Kurt Artinger pose inside Replacement Services LLC that occupies a 13,000-square-foot space inside that used to be a gymnasium. Peer 151 is a new entrepreneurship development center being created inside the former Turner Hall and YMCA building downtown.
Peer 151’s executive director Chris Oswald, left, and Kurt Artinger pose inside Replacement Services LLC that occupies a 13,000-square-foot space inside that used to be a gymnasium. Peer 151 is a new entrepreneurship development center being created inside the former Turner Hall and YMCA building downtown. dholtmann@bnd.com

Thirty businesses are on board to enter a new downtown entrepreneurship training center when it opens later this month.

Known as Peer 151, the business acceleration center is a co-working and training service to help entrepreneurs and start ups get off the ground. The name “Peer” was chosen to reflect the center’s co-working space experience and “151” is a combination of the center’s address and street number, 15 N. First St.

The center is being created at the 91-year old building that was initially built as Turner Hall and later housed the YMCA, which left the building in 2006. Creator Kurt Artinger said the site is returning to its original roots as a social civic center that will support local entrepreneurs, start-up business owners and office space.

Renovation is underway on the building. Peer 151 is scheduled to open Oct. 16.

For $125 a month, Peer 151 clients will receive expertise and office space complete with computers, Internet access, copying equipment and supplies. Clients will work in a community setting and be encouraged to help each other. Artinger said the concept is relatively new and encourages collaboration over competition.

One of the interesting things is it used to be when you were running a company everything was kind of a secret sauce thing. You wouldn’t share a lot because you were afraid somebody might take it. So what we have found at collaborative work spaces now is that’s kind of gone away.

Kurt Artinger, creator of the downtown entrepreneurship training center in Belleville

“One of the interesting things is it used to be when you were running a company everything was kind of a secret sauce thing,” Artinger said. “You wouldn’t share a lot because you were afraid somebody might take it. So what we have found at collaborative work spaces now is that’s kind of gone away.”

Artinger said a diverse group of clients will be moving in soon.

“We’ve had a pretty good amount of interest,” Artinger said. “We have programmers, an attorney, a PR person, a couple of bank people, so it’s a pretty eclectic group.”

Artinger is one of many in Belleville who wanted to preserve the historic downtown building. Two years ago, he put together a proposal to take over and renovate the 48,000-square-foot building, which had fallen into disrepair.

He bought it for $1, received $334,000 in tax increment financing assistance from the city, and invested another $700,000 to renovate the property. The building's electrical system was updated and a new roof installed.

In June 2014, his business — Replacement Services LLC — reoccupied a 13,000-square-foot space where the gymnasium had been. His company, which was founded in 2001 in Swansea, works with insurance companies across the country to provide software that helps appraise stolen goods.

$1.3 millionThe amount invested to renovate the former Turner Hall-YMCA building

When Artinger moved his business to the downtown Belleville building, he found many artifacts left behind by Turner Hall and the YMCA. Some of them were wooden poles and bars used for gymnastics, and a giant painted canvass that he found decorates his company’s office space. An old wiry basketball rim hangs on the wall in his office next to an equally as old basketball that he found in the attic.

Artinger is working to preserve the art deco and Gothic ornamentation within the building by recreating the decorative molding that was originally built around the doors and windows. Boxes of what Artinger believes are Prohibition-era beer bottles he found will be used to build a café bar on the first floor. He said there are no plans at this point for the building’s former locker rooms, pool and basement area that initially housed a bowling alley and later exercise and weight rooms.

Artinger recently hired Chris Oswald to serve as Peer 151’s executive director. Oswald said the service is going to involve getting people to work together to develop synergy that will build into something bigger.

We want to build a collaborative work space with a collaborative spirit. So there is a sense in which people have a membership and need to have an ownership in the space and an ownership in how things run.

Chris Oswald, executive director of Peer 151

“We want to build a collaborative work space with a collaborative spirit,” Oswald said. “So there is a sense in which people have a membership and need to have an ownership in the space and an ownership in how things run.

“Thankfully, we have a lot of folks who are interested in the space and those folks are going to bring both needs and aspirations to the table,” Oswald said.

“And what’s interesting is when you get 30 people with needs and aspirations together, you’re going to find that a lot of these needs are met by someone else’s aspirations and so forth. And that kind of builds into something.”

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 618-239-2526.

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