The Kaizen Center in the former Pizza Hut headquarters in Fort Wayne is open for corporate meetings and business retreat rentals.

Sweetwater founder and CEO Chuck Surack bought the 23,000-square-foot building at 7100 W. Jefferson Blvd. on 17 wooded acres in April. Listed for $3.9 million, the property sold for $2.2 million, said Heather Herron, vice president of corporate communications for Sweetwater Sound, Inc.

Working with Larry Weigand and Weigand Construction, Sweetwater put $4.5-$5 million in improvements into the building, constructed in 1989 and used for many community fundraisers and other events.

“From the beginning,” Surack said, “our vision has been to keep it as a community asset.”

It has a new circle drive leading up to the door, removed columns and added beams to the open high-ceilinged entryway known as the Great Hall, increased the free parking space from 30 to 145, created refreshment and lounge areas and added state-of-the-art audio and video equipment for conference rooms and office spaces that will be used by Surack’s businesses but are available for rent. By using pervious asphalt, which allows water to be absorbed, it saved trees from being torn down and made a retention pond unnecessary. The work modernized the facility while respecting its past.

“We’ve honored the legacy of (Pizza Hut Fort Wayne founder) Dick and Deanna Freeland,” Surack said. “Their offices remain much the same.”

Weigand said, “Every project comes with a few challenges. ... When we were opening up this main area here, we had to drop new beams in. And the beams are 3,000 pounds, so we had to bring them in that front door with an electric crane.”

A 40-foot beam had to be hoisted into place downstairs manually, he said.

“We also completed this project on what Chuck and John (Hopkins, executive vice president and COO) refer to as Sweetwater time,” Weigand said. “We did it fast. A lot of people talk about design-build. This was built and have the design catch up to it.”

It was completed in time for Sweetwater’s meeting on its strategic plan in September.

The downstairs conference rooms have a capacity for 80 and 90 people, and can be combined through audio-visual technology. They rent for $300 for a half-day and $500 for a full day each. A small conference room for 12 is available as breakout space.

The Great Hall will rent for $500 for a full day. If renters want to use the conference room space downstairs as well, it would be $500 per room, or they can spend $1,500 for the Great Hall and all conference rooms downstairs, according to Herron.

Dick Freeland’s office is not currently available for rent. It has a duck scene in glass, bar and seating and connects to an adjoining conference room and a balcony that looks down at the patio and fountain below.

One thing that likely won’t be changing at the property, according to Surack: the Pizza Hut logo on the ornate gates at the end of the driveway.

Surack explained the name of the center.

“Kaizen (ky-ZAHN) is the Japanese term for ‘continuous improvement,’” Surack said. “It’s a philosophy that I believe in, and one we can put into place daily at Sweetwater and at all of the other Sweetwater businesses.”

The Sweet Family of Companies includes the online retailer Surack founded in 1979, the Clyde Theatre, Sweet Aviation, Longe Optical and SweetCars.

Rental information is available at www.kaizencenterfw.com.

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