The old Wonder Bread factory lit up the night around the Edge District for years with its recognizable neon sign. While the quadrant of the city had become blighted and depressed over the years, the factory’s bright façade stubbornly refused to move from its perch overlooking the area. The building, vacant since 2013, might have seen its lights dim but for a new tenant that swooped in. In an effort to fight blight and drive economic development, Orion Federal Credit Union now calls the old Edge District factory home.
Orion FCU provides financial services ranging from commercial lending to consumer lending, whether it’s a loan for credit card, home, or auto. Daniel Weickenand joined the company when it was in trouble in 2010, having been recruited to turn its fortunes around. “It’s been a whirlwind over the past decade,” says Weickenand, “but overall it’s been a great experience.”
Having long since stabilized and grown Orion, Weickenand and the company found their new home in 2017. They searched extensively throughout town and had plenty of options, but eventually, their gaze fell on the Edge District. “We were approached by a lot of different sides, looking all around Downtown, but setting up here [the Wonder Bread factory] made sense. It’s addressing a long-blighted area in our community, and that’s the kind of thing we want to do.” Earlier this year, Weickenand and more than 100 employees moved to the new headquarters and resumed operations.
Orion’s new headquarters, at 400 Monroe Avenue, kept the integrity of the original 100-year-old structure. The exterior brick was reclaimed from parts of the building that were torn down, while other sections are being remodeled for future expansion. When thinking through the original design, he wanted the sense that a warehouse similar to something in Chicago or New York had been dropped right in the Edge, but with a modern feel. From the beginning, Weickenand and architectural partner Looney Ricks Kiss were in agreement that they keep the “iconic” neon Wonder Bread sign attached to the building. After fixing it up, the sign is set to a timer that casts its electric glow over the district every night, but it can also be turned on and off remotely.
Just inside the main entrance past the staircase, one of the factory’s grain silos still hangs from the ceiling; several light fixtures are suspended from it, a visual memory of what the buliding used to produce in its heyday. And there are more flashes of modernity all around the office. Little electronic touchpads rest next to the entrance of every conference and meeting room for easy access to scheduling and availability. Artworks by local artists and curated by David Lusk adorn the walls.
“We wanted to support local artists, so we worked with David and looked at different artists,” Weickenand says. “Every piece of art hanging in here has a connection to Memphis; maybe the artist lives here, or goes to school here. Anything like that, it’s fair game. It’s all meant to be Memphis-centric, kind of like this factory.” Any employee sitting in the open space on the first floor can easily swivel to see one of the numerous pieces. On the northern side of the building, a small outdoor courtyard is intentionally punctuated by steel beams where the original building was cut off during renovation.
Upstairs, a full service kitchen (equipped with glistening appliances and countertops) is by a large dining room. The spacious area, filled with tables and chairs, is capable of hosting groups whenever Orion has company gatherings. Large glass windows provide a view of a balcony that stretches around the side of the building close to the Wonder Bread sign. It’s just one of many places where employees can eat lunch or take a short break.
But amenties for the workers don’t stop there. On the basement floor, Orion set up a full-service gym, complete with weights, treadmills, and other equipment. It also hosts a large training room for up to 100 people.
Weickenand’s personal office is spacious and replete with items of personal significance. There are family photos, various corporate awards, support for issues like sickle-cell treatment, and even a framed copy of his “CEO of the Year Award,” courtesy Inside Memphis Business. An avid traveler, he also likes to document the places he goes and keeps photographs of some of his stops like Fredericksburg, Texas, or St. Louis, Missouri. His favorite piece, however, is a distinct painting of a small Wonder Bread sign atop a Hostess Cakes design. “That was gifted to me by Kevin Adams, one of the principals of Union Row.”
One item that sticks out is what looks like a wrestling belt. Back when Weickenand was on the Regional One Health board, Orion helped sponsor a fundraising golf tournament. “We came up with the idea to make these championship belts for the winning team,” he says. “But they gave me one as an honorary thing, since I guess you could say, there’s no way I’m winning that tournament myself!”
Then there’s the guitar propped close to the door. “I do play a little bit. It’s nice to have around. Sometimes, when things get pretty stressful, I can close the door, pick it up, and play some to reset myself.”
If the new building is a complete improvement over Orion’s former headquarters, that just mirrors the company’s recent goals. “For us, it’s just a continued focus on growth,” says Weickenand. “This year has been phenomenal for us. We earned around $150 million or more in assets than we had at the end of the month, and we’re very close to a billion dollars. Now, it’s just a matter of retooling and preparing ourselves for the next phase of what this organization would like to be. Because when I started, we had around $400 million, but it’s much higher now.”
Orion now encompasses, in addition to its new headquarters, 11 branch locations in Tennessee and Arkansas. “We’re also looking at remodeling some of our legacy locations so our customers can get the same kind of experience, no matter which branch they’re at,” says Weickenand. “Beyond that, in terms of expansions, it’s just a matter of where and when. The growth that we’ve seen recently, in a relatively short period of time, won’t be replicated so easily. So we need to make sure that we as an organization have the processes and people in place to make sure that we can handle that sort of growth without tripping and falling.”
Now that the dust has mostly settled on Orion’s move, Weickenand is excited to be part of a growing community in the region of Downtown. However, even though Orion was the largest corporate partner to sign on with the Edge District revitalization plan, Weickenand is quick to recognize all the businesses that arrived before.
“You know, we get more credit than we deserve. Others brought this idea to us initially and allowed us to visualize what this space could look like. You have LEO Events, who came in recently. They did a great job with their remodeling. It’s a pretty neat place, built on what used to be an auto shop. Then you have Union Row nearby. All of this is going to be a real gamechanger for our community, which is fantastic. It’s great to see these sorts of things going on, and it’s great to be a part of it.”