Adaptive reuse: Repurposing Nashville commercial real estate

Bridge BuildingAlthough the concept of adaptive reuse has been around for centuries, its popularity has increased over the past few years. Adaptive reuse refers to the reuse of an older site or building for a different purpose than the one for which it was built or designed.

Historically, buildings that were durable and structurally sound often changed purposes many times before being torn down in favor of new construction. In the past, new construction was primarily driven by economic reasons or reasons of efficiency. More recently, an increased interest in adaptive reuse has emerged as the movement to preserve historical buildings, neighborhoods and structures has become more prevalent.

As new development and reuse occurs, the owners of the city’s older, and sometimes historic, buildings are faced with tough decisions regarding new investment. Older buildings often do not provide the return on capital and predictability that newer, more efficient buildings may provide. Additionally, the area around an older building may have changed from what was envisioned decades ago. However, the historical, aesthetic value of an older or historic structure often cannot be quantified.

When faced with this dilemma, an owner of such a building must consider the structure of the building and the building’s ability to adapt to modern needs, such as the ability to wire the building for modern technology. Often, regulatory or zoning requirements may dictate the owner’s ability to change or tear down an existing or historical structure. Further, market analysis is crucial. If one’s potential tenants, buyers, or customers would value a restored historical building over a modern building, then, a decision about how to proceed becomes much more clear.

Economics drive these decisions. Every building cannot always be restored. Some older buildings may be deemed functionally obsolete, like the state-owned Cordell Hull office building in downtown Nashville.

Because of the appeal of historical or older structures, adaptive reuse is thriving in Nashville. Perhaps one of the most visible and best examples of adaptive reuse downtown is the Union Station Hotel. The former 19th century railroad station has been beautifully restored and now serves as one of Nashville’s most popular and recognizable hotels.Vanderbilt University has numerous examples on its campus, including many of its residence halls, the Library Archives, Buttrick Hall. The redevelopment of One Hundred Oaks from a dying shopping mall into a hybrid retail/medical mixed-use facility is a fabulous example of how adaptive reuse can potentially reshape an entire area of town. Another terrific example of adaptive reuse is The Bridge Building, located next to the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge. Originally constructed in 1908, this property was once the headquarters of the Nashville Bridge Company. After completing its recent modernization, the facility now serves as a private event venue that affords patrons a fabulous view of the river and the downtown skyline.

As Nashville continues to grow, it will be interesting to see how adaptive reuse plays a role in the changing face of Nashville’s commercial real estate.

This post was first published by the Nashville Business Journal on September 4, 2013.  To read more commercial real estate articles by Walt Burton at the Nashville Business Journal, click here>