While growing up in western Virginia, one of my favorite restaurants was in a converted train depot. On several occasions my parents walked me through the tobacco warehouses in Farmville, Virginia filled with fine furniture and rugs. There was even a bed and breakfast nearby with rooms in a grain silo. Although I did not realize it at the time, these businesses were examples of “adaptive reuse.”
Today, in both rural and urban communities, adaptive reuse is a necessary and successful tool for economic development. In its traditional form, adaptive reuse is used to preserve unique or historic buildings that are important to the character of a city or town. In urban centers, this can mean turning abandoned warehouses into loft apartments or shuttered factories into art studios and galleries. Today, more peripheral “sprawling” areas are being targeted. Aging hotels and motels that would have once been razed are being reconditioned into housing for college students. Small startup churches fill vacant storefronts and abandoned shopping malls become event centers and charter schools. This reuse can bring new life not just to a specific building, but entire areas within a town or city.
Our own community has a long history of adaptive reuse. Captain George’s Seafood Restaurant was once a warehouse, and the former U.S. Post Office Building in downtown Williamsburg is now host to multiple shops and two restaurants. A local developer’s proposal for the conversion of and older hotel into high-end student housing is up for discussion this month. Even front and center on one of America’s greatest and most historic streets, the former SunTrust Bank on Duke of Gloucester Street has been converted into the DOG Street Pub.
Adaptive reuse in peripheral, sprawling properties is particularly important in today’s economy because of a glut of vacant, highly leveraged commercial and business space. Adaptive reuse in these areas helps control vacancy rates and support traffic flow, two factors important to maintaining property values. As a result, local governments have become mindful of how their zoning ordinances and architectural requirements impact adaptation in these areas. By allowing a creative use of a vacant shopping center or office building, a locality can provide the interim support for a property until it is used as originally intended or can become the catalyst for an entirely new use for the property.
Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law
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