December 2, 2015

How to Support Adaptive Reuse of Historic Buildings

From historic power plants to breweries to schoolhouses, the adaptive reuse potential of old buildings is seemingly limitless. Today’s toolkit features tips to help you promote reuse in your own community, along with several examples of successful reuse projects to help inspire your work.

First, five preservation tips regarding reuse projects:

Do your homework.

Research building reuse successes and missed opportunities in your community. This will help you be a stronger advocate for preserving the character of your community’s vacant and threatened historic buildings.

Contact your state historic preservation office and local planning department.

Preservation professionals can provide additional guidance and local resources for promoting building reuse in your community. The local planning department can address how zoning and building regulations may enable or hinder reuse.

Let your voice be heard.

Explain to your local officials that building reuse is an important contributor to the economic and social well-being of your community. Encourage them to remove regulatory barriers to reuse and modernize zoning and building regulations. Consider sharing your views by writing to your city council members or by speaking at one of their meetings.

photo by: CEB Imagery

This former toy warehouse in downtown LA was converted into loft apartments.

Support businesses and organizations that adaptively reuse historic buildings.

From big-box retailers to locally owned businesses and nonprofit institutions, diverse groups and individuals are adaptively reusing historic buildings in creative ways across the country. (See case studies in the next section.) Do your part by patronizing these preservation-friendly organizations.

Share on social media.

Posting photos and commentary on favorite reuse projects in your community is a great way to spread the word about the value of adaptive reuse. Learn more about getting the word out with our How to Save Place Series.

Next, five examples of successful reuse projects to get you started:

Downtown Los Angeles.

Throughout the city, innovative reuse projects are showing how diverse older buildings can be repurposed to meet the marketplace’s changing demands. The city’s Adaptive Reuse Ordinance has helped encourage the reuse of historic buildings downtown, with some 14,000 residential units created in converted buildings between 1999 and 2013. The National Trust’s Preservation Green Lab is partnering with the Urban Land Institute to help other cities to learn from reuse best practices in Los Angeles.

photo by: Jimmy Wayne, Flickr

The former Skowhegan Jail in Skowhegan, Maine.

Power Plant in St. Louis.

In 2010, Gilded Age developers and Environmental Operations, Inc. began restoring a former hospital power plant and looking for a tenant that could occupy its 10,000 square feet of space. Serendipitously, Climb So iLL, a local climbing gym, needed a large open space for their facility, and with the support of their partners, became the first occupants of the soaring plant space in 26 years. Learn more.

Pabst Brewhouse in Milwaukee.

Brewhouse Inn & Suites, a 90-room boutique hotel, opened in April 2013 in the 1892 building that was the original home of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. The hotel used lumber salvaged from the building to make the headboards for its beds as well as the tables for its bar and extended-stay rooms.

The Navy Yard in Philadelphia.

Retailer Urban Outfitters moved its operations to Philadelphia's historic Navy Yard beginning with the purchase and rehabilitation of five abandoned industrial buildings. The project has sparked the rebirth and economic redevelopment of south Philadelphia. Learn more.

Skowhegan Jail in Skowhegan, Maine.

Amber Lambke thought that the jail would make a great grist mill when she toured the building in 2007. Today, Maine Grains in the Somerset Grist Mill sells flour and rolled oats at the Pickup Cafe (housed in the building) and through distribution companies throughout New England. Learn more.

Learning from Los Angeles is the first in a new series of research and policy reports from the Partnership for Building Reuse, a joint effort of the National Trust’s Preservation Green Lab and the Urban Land Institute.

Andy Grabel served as Associate Director of Public Affairs at the National Trust.

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