Adaptive Reuse for Industrial Properties: How to See the Potential, and What to Look For


With a little imagination and a good dose of planning and research, existing industrial properties can be redeveloped into spaces for entirely new uses. Termed “adaptive reuse," this common approach to real estate is not only a boon to modern green building initiatives and sustainable development, it can be a solution for developers and building owners who are seeking a specific location or use that may not be currently available.

Imagine the Possibilities for Industrial Properties

Many cities in the US have buildings that remain from now-extinct industries, as technology and industry changes much more quickly than real estate and infrastructure can keep up. Centers of commerce often relocate and shift based on the needs of changing economic trends.

When the national and global economies support successful import/export and international businesses, real estate near the ports and airports gains favor and industrial warehouse buildings may gain market share. However, in periods of global downturn, more locally-based small businesses may grow and flourish, encouraging artist communities and small retail businesses to erupt in former warehouse and industrial space.

So what are some creative ways to consider reusing existing industrial properties?

•  Garages can be converted into music halls, bars, or retail space
•  Warehouses can house commercial kitchens to support local food trucks, segmented artist studios, or start-up office space for entrepreneurs
• Industrial properties with high ceilings and abundant natural light can be converted into attractive office space
• Factories can be converted into production or testing facilities for a range of technology or biotech industries


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Considering Adaptive Reuse for Industrial Properties:
What to Look For

In the United States there are more than 300 billion square feet of buildings that are already built, with opportunities for adaptive reuse ranging from 100 or 1,000 square feet to hundreds of thousands of square feet.

1. Does the Location Suit the Business?

Industrial properties in urban areas with little available class A office space and soaring rental rates are prime targets for conversion. The property’s location will not only impact its future real estate value and potential growth, it’s also an important consideration depending on the planned future use. If the use will rely heavily on shipping or transport, it will be crucial to understand the proximity to major transportation hubs and thoroughfares. Alternately, easy access to prime residential real estate communities is important for properties that may be redeveloped into office space to support staff recruitment efforts.

2. Does the Structure Have Good Bones?

With older or historic industrial properties, adaptive reuse may require peeling away decades of wallboard, paints, and in some cases asbestos. Environmental hazards may be a consideration, especially in buildings that were previously used for manufacturing.

The existing infrastructure is also worth investigating. Check whether the heating and cooling systems are operational, and whether they are salvageable for your needs or would need to be entirely replaced.

Other considerations include:

• Natural light
• Temperature and comfort
• Ventilation
• Acoustics
• Circulation and space layout
• Entry and exit / wayfinding
• Fire and life safety

Does it Meet Your Needs?

Numerous attributes make many vacant industrial properties attractive redevelopment candidates, such as:

• High parking ratios
• Architectural interest
• Potential for open-plan layouts
• Access to water lines, sewage systems, roads, and utility lines

It is crucial to understand exactly what the future use will be in order to appropriately assess an existing industrial property for its value and reuse potential.

Vacant or dilapidated industrial properties offer great potential for creative developers and commercial real estate professionals who take advantage of these opportunities.

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