Unlocking the Potential for Adaptive Reuse Across the Southeast  

22 April, 2024

As urban centers across the Southeast continue to experience rapid growth and development, a notable trend has emerged: the adaptive reuse of existing structures.

But what’s driving the shift towards repurposing rather than building new construction? The explanation lies in the scarcity of greenfield sites in prime locations experiencing rapid population growth. 

Nashville, with its abundance of historic industrial facilities, is seeing a surge in adaptive reuse projects. As neighborhoods evolve and become more densely populated, these previously neglected areas are now valuable real estate, ready for revitalization. 

Take the Cumberland River in Nashville where waterfront properties are in high demand. Regulations now mandate a 50-foot buffer from the river for new developments. This restriction has spurred a wave of adaptive reuse projects, breathing new life into existing structures while preserving the city’s historical fabric. 

Similarly in Atlanta, from the vibrant Krog District to the iconic Coca-Cola building at 560 Edgewood, historic and industrial buildings are finding new life as trendy retail and entertainment spaces, such as breweries and restaurants.  

Despite the challenges that adaptive reuse projects face, such as complex renovations and regulatory hurdles, there are substantial advantages. Through the repurposing of existing structures, communities can maintain ties to their past, nurturing a feeling of continuity and belonging. These transformations are often perceived by residents as enhancements rather than instances of perceived gentrification. 

Here are the key elements necessary for implementing successful projects and unlocking the full potential of adaptive reuse across the Southeast. 

Performing Thorough Due Diligence Specific to Adaptive Reuse

Undertaking an adaptive reuse project typically requires meticulous due diligence, particularly in addressing infrastructure and site-specific considerations.

Utility Infrastructure Assessment

Old utility infrastructure, originally designed for different purposes, may not adequately support the new use and could be undersized. This can lead to water and sewer capacity issues down the line, necessitating offsite upgrades.

Collaboration with utility agencies is essential to assess capacity and design creative solutions. In areas of Nashville there is still a combined sewer system, and developments must adhere to the Clean Water Nashville Overflow Abatement Program which provides a plan for reducing overflows into the Cumberland River. 

Site Topography and Existing Grades

In dense urban environments, constrained sites pose challenges in tying in with neighboring properties’ grades. Matching driveway elevations or transitioning between properties can be complex. “Where possible, we incorporate transition gradients or curved driveways to manage grade differences effectively,” says Brett Buckland, Sr. Project Manager in Bohler’s Atlanta office. “If the grade is too significant, we work with the project architect to implement building entrances at multiple levels.”

Additionally, in Nashville, where rugged topography prevails, a thorough evaluation is recommended to anticipate costs and constraints.

see related: due diligence time crunch? 6 items not to miss

Stormwater Management Assessment

Understanding stormwater management requirements is critical. While existing buildings or pavement may offer some benefits by reducing stormwater management needs, redevelopment exceeding a certain percentage of the site, as determined by the municipality, may trigger full compliance with latest regulations. This could significantly impact project costs. Early estimates are crucial, and jurisdiction-specific regulations must be carefully considered.

“For several adaptive reuse projects within Atlanta, including Stoveworks, Brickworks and Midtown Promenade, we worked with the city’s Site Development Department to minimize the site disturbance and leverage the available exemptions,” says Brett. “This approach allowed us to forego bringing the entire site into compliance with the latest regulations, saving the client on design and construction costs.”

By meticulously addressing these aspects during the due diligence phase, developers can mitigate risks and promote the success of their adaptive reuse projects.

Fostering Community Engagement and Integrating Neighborhood Character

In the realm of adaptive reuse, community engagement plays a pivotal role in preserving the unique identity and character of neighborhoods.

Preserving Neighborhood Aesthetics

To promote successful integration, adaptive reuse projects must align with both the aesthetic and atmosphere of the surrounding neighborhood. This involves collaboration with the project architect to address landscape architecture, streetscape design, façade treatments, and screening/buffering techniques. According to Bohler’s Assistant Project Manager in Nashville, Blair Seymour, neglecting these elements can result in community disconnection and project resistance.

Honoring Community Heritage

Changing the characteristics of a community can often be met with resistance. However, adaptive reuse offers an opportunity to uphold the sentimental memories associated with a building. By preserving and repurposing existing structures, developers can help maintain the fabric of the community and foster a sense of continuity.

Soliciting Community Feedback

Engaging with residents and stakeholders throughout the project is essential. Incorporating their feedback into the development process helps ensure that their voices are heard and their concerns addressed. This collaborative approach not only fosters goodwill but also leads to better-designed spaces that truly reflect the community’s needs and desires.

Tailoring Solutions to Neighborhoods

Recognizing that each neighborhood has its own distinct identity and preferences is paramount. Developers must immerse themselves in the local context to understand what residents want and need.

For example, Nashville’s ‘The Nations’ neighborhood might prioritize certain amenities, while the community in ‘12 South’ may have entirely different preferences. By tailoring solutions to each neighborhood’s unique characteristics, developers can create spaces that resonate with residents and contribute positively to the community.

Moving Forward with Adaptive Reuse

From navigating regulatory hurdles to fostering community engagement, the success of adaptive reuse projects hinges on thorough due diligence and a collaborative approach. By addressing infrastructure challenges, such as utility upgrades and stormwater management, developers can mitigate risks and ensure the long-term viability of their ventures. 

Furthermore, integrating neighborhood character and soliciting community feedback are key steps in creating spaces that truly resonate with residents. Tailoring solutions to the unique preferences of each neighborhood can foster a sense of pride and belonging within the communities they serve. 

At Bohler, we continue to embrace the potential of adaptive reuse as a catalyst for positive change. By harnessing the creativity and ingenuity of developers, architects, and community members alike, we can help you unlock the full potential of our built environment and create vibrant, thriving neighborhoods for generations to come. 

Ready to move forward with an adaptive reuse project? Connect with our team.

About Kevin Eakes, PE

Kevin is a seasoned land development consultant and site civil engineer, with nearly 20 years in the field. His commitment lies in partnering with clients, employing a collaborative approach to tackle intricate project hurdles and drive them towards their envisioned success. Currently assuming the role of Director of Land Development at Bohler’s Nashville, TN office, Kevin dedicates his efforts to amplifying Bohler’s footprint across Middle Tennessee. His wealth of project expertise spans diverse sectors encompassing industrial, commercial, private residential, multi-family, retail, and urban infrastructure. This breadth of experience empowers Kevin to deliver top-tier land development insights and expertise, benefiting owners, developers, and commercial real estate professionals throughout the region.

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