Recent years have seen a boost in repurposing projects for underutilized industrial properties around the country. This has positive effects on areas that had become urban “dead zones,” breathing new life into disused neighborhoods.

The evolution of urban areas is a complex study, but most of us recognize that the pendulum for city centers in the U.S. is swinging back. Following World War 2, more Americans had cars and chose to move away from congested urban centers. The suburban lifestyle became the ideal, and eventually industry began to follow the population to industrial parks at the city’s edge.

The suburban boom resulted in the abandonment of industrial space in many city centers. Old factory and warehouse buildings stood unused, but recent projects have transformed these industrial spaces, creating popular spaces for creative offices, loft residences, and mixed use developments that also incorporate dining and retail.

The livable neighborhood

As long commutes and high-maintenance lawns lose their glow for many of us, a movement back to the city neighborhood has been underway. Urban living provides easy access to the many amenities of the city – parks, dining, museums, public transportation, entertainment options, and more. The live-work-play lifestyle is increasingly popular.  

Repurposed industrial buildings offer the location as well as the “cool factor” that many companies and potential residents are looking for, and once these new occupants arrive, the market is there for new businesses to move into the area and thrive. These projects can bring new assets to an urban location, things like:

  •         Public and private office space
  •         Residential space
  •         Plazas and outdoor gathering areas
  •         Performance venues
  •         Cultural attractions
  •         Dining and entertainment
  •         Classroom space
  •         Health and wellness services

The rebirth of neglected neighborhoods often begins with the creation of offices. Industrial space is ideal for housing “creative” companies. These might include production space for work all types of design work, advertising, communications, entertainment, engineering, photography, film distribution, software design, architectural services, and the like.  These companies tend to flock together, so industrial conversions often sweep through an area in response to demand.

When this happens, there are opportunities to establish businesses that serve the people in those companies- restaurants, bank locations, and dry-cleaners. As more residents move in, the neighborhood can add entertainment venues, health clubs, and a range of amenities that can become destinations for residents of the larger community.

There are industrial renovation projects underway in virtually every major U.S. city.  In Chicago, for example, the old Marshall Fields warehouse, comprising a six-building, 1.5 million square feet property, is being transformed for a mixed-use future.   A $60 million project is nearing completing which will convert the facility to The Fields, a district that will support business, retail and residential tenants, and will include 700 indoor parking spaces. The project will include 84 apartments as well as office and design space. To serve residents and the surrounding neighborhood, it will also include retail and an upscale grocery.

The adaptive reuse of existing industrial properties allows developers to capitalize on the unique features of those structures, save on costs, and in many cases, preserve architectural history. The benefits to the surrounding area can be immense as well, creating a new and vital urban neighborhood with vintage charm.

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