Over the past few years, the commercial real estate industry faced its most challenging time in decades. The industry peaked at $500 billion in revenue in 2008 and hit a low of less than $350 billion only two years later. This dip – and subsequent lag in the economy – helped shape a new trend: the modernization of old buildings. Budgets simply were not there to fund new builds, even though the need for space existed.
At the same time, there has been a shift in thinking. Environmental concerns are mainstream and sustainability is paramount, particularly with commercial space. Preserving an old building is deemed more in line with caring for the environment today.
Another reason for keeping an older building often has to do with zoning regulations. If an old building is torn down, regulations could specify that the replacement building have greater property line setbacks, which often defeats the reason to build new and increase square footage.
Then there are the tax incentives to restore old buildings with modern conveniences and improve energy efficiency. Couple this with the fact that these buildings tend to have more character and unusual characteristics and it becomes evident why this trend is catching on, particularly in more populated areas.
There are more opportunities in cities and other densely populated areas to renovate and modernize based on the level of urbanization. The price – and availability – of land, along with possible jurisdictional restraints on new development, certainly impacts whether to keep an existing facility versus building new.
With all of the above considered, this is a process that requires careful consideration and analysis before making a decision. In fact, the question that always needs to be addressed before any action occurs is: will modernizing the building help it satisfy the need? Whatever that need may be, the “yes” or “no” answer determines the next steps to take.
Additional questions to ask for a thorough understanding of the existing site and the building’s assets and limitations include:
- Is the site compatible with the building’s purpose?
- Can the building and site accommodate the spatial program?
- Can this be accomplished in compliance with zoning, building codes, and environmental issues?
- Is the building structurally sound?
- Can a new building that meets current jurisdictional spatial requirements be built on the site?
- If the building is currently occupied, how can renovations take place safely?
Be sure to contact the local Historic Trust to determine if they have requirements that affect the changes made to the existing structure. And also consider the level of community support. With both of these groups, everything must mesh together to make the project successful for all.
There are a lot of factors to evaluate, but in the end, there is no substitute for knowing what to expect from the decision to modernize old or build new. Look at the project from a variety of angles and ask the tough questions. They will lead to the answers that makes sense for the project, the developer or client, and the community at large.
John DiMenna is a Senior Vice President and Partner at Rubeling & Associates, Inc., one of the Mid-Atlantic’s leading architecture and interior design firms. Celebrating 30-plus years in business, Rubeling & Associates specializes in corporate office, healthcare, campus spatial master planning, and local government projects as well as religious facilities and education. For more information, or to contact the author, please visit: www.rubeling.com or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.