The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers plans by next year to vacate its longtime home on South River Street in downtown Janesville.
The IBEW Local 890 is working through a rezoning request in a plan to build a $2 million, 11,000-square-foot headquarters and apprentice training center on the city’s south side at 1900 Reuther Way near Beloit Avenue.
IBEW’s planned move means the union intends to sell the two-story building at 17 S. River St. where the union has operated for the last 20 years. The IBEW uses only part of the building downtown and leases the other portions as private offices.
IBEW Business Manager Leo Sokolik said a new facility on the south side would give the Janesville electrical contractors union more space to train a growing number of union and nonunion apprentices.
The current IBEW building, a modernist structure with architectural panels that shield the second story façade, stands at the epicenter of the downtown riverfront that has seen millions of dollars in public and private revitalization since 2015.
Sokolik said the IBEW’s more than 150% growth in apprentice members since 2000 justifies a new training center and headquarters. But he said the riverfront’s ongoing reinvention as a cultural and commercial city center has made the IBEW—a trade union—seem like less of a match to its downtown surroundings.
“A few years ago, we looked at the old Chase Bank up the street. That was before Blackhawk Credit Union bought it. We actually toured that bank and thought about what the IBEW could do to revitalize that building and maybe move in there. But we are just a construction union. We don’t really belong in downtown Janesville,” Sokolik said.
The city and private investors working under the city’s ARISE riverfront revitalization plan in 2018 capped off a dramatic redevelopment of a former commercial property along South River Street just south of the IBEW building. That area is now the west side ARISE Town Square, a city park that offers pedestrians scenic access to the Rock River.
A group of private investors this summer bought and tore down the decrepit former Town and Country restaurant building under plans to redevelop the site for residential or commercial use. As of this fall, that site across River Street from the IBEW building is cleared and growing grass.
The IBEW bought a triangular parcel that is split by Reuther Way, and the union intends to initially build on a 3-acre northwest portion of the property. For years, the union has run apprentice training downtown, but the space it uses for its lab in the South River Street building is limited and requires instructors to tear down and set up different equipment to run different types of training.
Sokolik said a new headquarters on the south side would allow the union to build out more and varied training spaces it could operate without having to constantly refit rooms for different training exercises.
Sokolik said that in the years coming out of the Great Recession, pent-up demand for commercial construction has driven growth in IBEW ranks—particularly in apprenticeships for union electrical work and independent construction electric occupation.
He believes that if the IBEW can break ground this fall on a new facility, it might be move-in ready in August 2021 when a wave of new apprenticeships is slated to come aboard for fall classes.
Under IBEW’s plans to market the South River Street building, Sokolik said he believes the IBEW would give one anchor tenant in the building, a behavioral health clinic, initial rights to buy the building outright.
Sokolik said it is possible that if the clinic doesn’t pursue purchase, the property could go on the open market.
Alicia Reid, who operates West Milwaukee Street art gallery Raven’s Wish, said she wasn’t aware the IBEW plans to build a new headquarters and leave downtown, but she told The Gazette she found the idea intriguing.
“It makes sense,” Reid said. “Maybe the property can get reused as commercial storefronts, retail or something.”