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Preserving the Old, Making Room for the New: The Benefits of Adaptive Reuse

By: Callan Sherrod, brokerage relations specialist

Callan Sherrod

A ride through many American downtown areas today will provide a picture of the direction in which urban communities are moving to revitalize and restore their city-centers. Once regarded as the dynamic hub of both the eight-to-five workday and evenings on the town, many urban areas are remembering and embracing the value of a multi-function approach to downtown development, and they are working to ensure this vision is central in their forward-thinking planning.

The properties and buildings that play a key role in this process are much like the downtown areas they occupy – while they’ve been around for decades, they’re finding new life in the rising demand for restored and mixed-use properties.

So what exactly is this development strategy, and how is it being implemented today?

The technical term for this process is adaptive reuse. At its core, it means identifying old buildings or properties and repurposing them for new functions. Though you may have never heard of the practice, you’ve likely seen its outcomes – it’s been a recognized strategy for years, and if you’ve been in an urban center recently to enjoy a meal, concert or art gallery, there’s a chance that the building you visited is a product of adaptive reuse.

In fact, the downtown centers of a few of Alabama’s major markets – Birmingham, Huntsville and Montgomery – are experiencing new growth and energy that have been fueled, in part, by the practice of adaptive reuse.

Benefits of Adaptive Reuse

Why choose adaptive reuse over building your own facility? While the practice may sound like a strategy to conserve time, energy and resources, adaptive reuse provides long-term benefits to the cities who choose to deploy the method. Below are just a few of these advantages:

Cost-Effective Development

There is both a cost and benefit associated with the practice of adaptive reuse. With construction costs in flux, identifying an existing structure eligible for repurpose can save a developer thousands of dollars. For example, the cost of construction tripled during the early 2000s. In that time, adaptive reuse could have returned as much as 25 percent of the overall cost of construction. In fact, this practice has proven so reliable that buildings may now be built so that adaptive reuse can be an option for future leasers. Finally, it’s important to remember that many popular industries come with overhead costs, so saving money in the development of these properties can be vital for long-term profitability.

Historical Preservation

Adaptive reuse is also an effective way to preserve the character, look and feel of a city’s historical downtown properties. For example, Birmingham’s history as an iron and steel industrial center is represented by the entertainment venue developed at Sloss Furnace. While enjoying a concert at the outdoor venue, you can be reminded of the industries and the history that established Birmingham as one of the south’s prominent urban centers.


While newly constructed buildings are often built with energy efficiency in mind, historical and dated properties are typically not sustainable by nature. The lack of technological resources at the time of their development made the level of sustainability that is possible today a nearly unreachable goal. Adaptive reuse presents its occupants the challenge of continually discovering methods by which to create and promote energy-efficient solutions within their historical and preserved properties. However, adaptive reuse still provides significant sustainability benefits by minimizing the amount of waste created by construction.

Built in 1926, the Historic Federal Reserve Building served as the Atlanta branch of the Federal Reserve Bank until 2000. In 2017, it was renovated into a multi-use property including office, financial and restaurant space.