How PlanetReuse helped save the world’s largest pop art painting

It's not every day Nathan Benjamin gets an email from a documentary director, let alone one working on a project for ESPN's "30-for-30" documentary series. In fact, at first he says he didn't pay the message much mind. The email inquired about a 7,200-square-foot reclaimed gym floor—a piece that was once listed on his company's

A number of years ago, PlanetReuse helped connect a buyer with 7,200 square feet of reclaimed gym floor panels. Now those panels are being featured in a “30-for-30” short on ESPN. 

It’s not every day Nathan Benjamin gets an email from a documentary director, let alone one working on a project for ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary series. 

In fact, at first he says he didn’t pay the message much mind. The email inquired about a 7,200-square-foot reclaimed gym floor—a piece that was once listed on his company’s site, but had since been sold.

The Kansas City-based startup helps connect architects and contractors with reusable and salvageable materials for new commercial and residential construction projects throughout the U.S. 

“At the time, it was just another transaction,” Benjamin told SPN. “We move a lot of materials that have a lot of great stories.” 

But when Chris James Thompson, the director, offered to drive through the night from Milwaukee to Kansas City to meet with Benjamin and his team, the PlanetReuse founder and CEO quickly realized there was much more to it.

In fact, the purchased material in question was the MECCA Arena floor, commissioned in 1977 by the City of Milwaukee and painted by famed pop artist Robert Indiana. Well-known for his iconic “LOVE” sculpture, the MECCA floor was one of Indiana’s largest artistic undertakings and remains the world’s largest pop art painting.

The only basketball court to have every inch covered in paint, the court was once home to the Milwaukee Bucks and players from Marquette University. But when the Bucks moved to the Bradley Center in 1988, the MECCA floor was all but forgotten. 

That is, until 2010 when it showed up on PlanetReuse as a “reclaimed gym floor in panels” “previously used by the Milwaukee Bucks NBA franchise.” The team is accustomed to seeing similar gym floors parceled off or sold in smaller pieces, and at more than 7,000-square-feet and roughly 40,000 pounds, the MECCA flooring seemed destined for a similar fate.

But Benjamin and his team posted on the Bucks’ Facebook page, looking for a buyer who may understand the value of the intact, well-preserved flooring. 

“You probably wouldn’t know what the MECCA floor was for the Milwaukee Bucks. I know I didn’t, and the average person probably doesn’t,” Benjamin (right) said. “But back in the day when they commissioned (Indiana) to do this floor it was a big deal and really controversial.” 

The Milwaukee Bucks and the Marquette Warriors played on the MECCA floor from 1977 to 1988. 

Through the power of social media, Milwaukee resident Andrew Gorzalski saw the posting and contacted PlanetReuse, inquiring about the MECCA floor. Benjamin and his team helped verify that the material in question was, in fact, Indiana’s work, and Gorzalski along with Our MECCA Group would eventually go on to purchase the flooring. 

“In this case, they’re reusing the floor as artwork,” Benjamin said. “Most of the time, it’s highly likely the material would have been discarded or thrown away. People don’t think about how to reuse, and there aren’t enough stories about reuse like this out there.

“A lot of the time, people just throw stuff in the dumpster not knowing if someone else might see value in it.” 

Since the fall of 2013, the MECCA floor has been on display at Milwaukee’s City Hall, with plans for the panels to travel to galleries and venues across the country. 

The 14-minute documentary short, titled “MECCA: The Floor That Made Milwaukee Famous,” will be available online with ESPN’s other “30 for 30” shorts on Wednesday—a time couldn’t be confirmed. Benjamin will appear on the documentary.

But this isn’t the first time ProjectReuse has caught the attention of the national press. Last May, the startup was named to Entrepreneur magazine’s list of “100 Brilliant Companies” and also was the winner of SXSW’s Eco Startup Showcase. In June 2013, PlanetReuse was selected to be part of the Wall Street Journal’s “WSJ Startup of the Year” episodic documentary.

Watch the “30 for 30” documentary short about Milwaukee’s MECCA floor: 

Credits: Images courtesy of PlanetReuse.


Sign up to receive daily updates in your inbox.