From ruins to riches

I have almost exclusively written about various forms of urban reuse, including adaptive reuse, urban infill, even suburban retrofitting. All of these forms of development, different from green field, obviously require commitment and at least some creativity.

That said, I’m really fascinated by how some historic building types lend themselves perfectly to specific adaptive reuse concepts. For instance, schools are great because old classroom sizes are perfect for a small studio/1br apartment. Combining two classrooms is an easy way to create a large 2br apartment. Developers seem to get this, judging by the sheer volume of school conversions, particularly amongst Ohio’s affordable housing development scene (i.e., what I’m most familiar with). Does it really require creativity and a deep commitment once a concept such as this is proven?

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Historic landmarks are not immune to tragedies, whether they be fire, flood, and so on. I’ve seen many landmarks, particularly OKC’s flood-damaged Stage Center, lost to acts of god. Luckily though, I’ve seen some cities pull together to save ruined landmarks.

Omaha’s iconic Old Market was struck with such a travesty when its iconic M’s Pub Building caught fire after a natural gas explosion during a polar vortex event last year:

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Property owner Mercer Management announced they would save the building and begin the restoration process immediately. That shows commitment. After worries that the Old Market would lose one of its more iconic buildings, 11 months later all three original tenants are building out these spaces once again:

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Last year, Louisville made national news when its famed Whiskey Row caught fire while extensive rehabilitation work was underway.

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111 Whiskey Row – the three buildings combined as one new asset with 87,000 square feet – is going forward after an insurance settlement covered a large portion (though undisclosed) of the $4 million in damage caused by the fire. The developers, Main Street Revitalization, are a consortium of local preservationists, who have shown a deep commitment to this project. They will be rewarded for their commitment once they open this unique piece of real estate for business. They reportedly expect apartments to lease quickly, and storefronts to fill. Old Forester Distillery is one of 5 new distilleries opening up nearby:

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The Central Hotel in Galion, Ohio was a typical small town feel-good story. The historic hotel in the town center had been renovated in 2004 into affordable senior housing – both providing needed affordable housing in this community, and keeping the lights on in one of its better buildings. Then in 2015 it was discovered that shoddy construction work done by contractors had left the foundation and entire building unstable, prompting an immediate evacuation and relocation of residents. At this point, it would have been cheaper to demolish the building and build replacement units on the site.

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Luckily for Galion, and despite the shoddy construction work, this property was managed and operated by deeply-committed non-profit partners who were willing to absorb losses to stand by this project. Beyond LEADS (a community action agency in Mid Ohio) and OCCH (a non-profit housing syndicator), the City of Galion also came in clutch by providing a small CDBG grant to help save the building. Every little bit helped, and through the power of leveraging, the building is back in service and residents are moved back in.

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All of these properties, suffice it to say, an average developer would have walked away from. Or worse yet, postured as “committed” by proposing to wipe the slate clean. Rather than that, these properties will continue to shine in a new light, and hopefully serve as models for other urban landmarks that may be devastated by fire. Congrats to everyone involved in the above projects, and here’s to your success. Undoubtedly, the market will support and reward these groups for their commitment to finishing the job right.

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