Cleaning TowelRecognizing the environmental, economic and community benefits of reusing vacant and blighted property, The National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) and the Urban Land Institute (ULI) created the Partnership for Building Reuse to bring together local partners and stakeholders to identify opportunities and address challenges related to the reuse of buildings in America’s cities.  This fall, the Partnership for Building Reuse issued its findings from studies performed in Philadelphia (“Retrofitting Philadelphia”) and Baltimore (“Building on Baltimore’s History”).   Michael Sklaroff, former Chair of Ballard Spahr’s Real Estate Department, co-chaired the Philadelphia effort, and Jon Laria, the Managing Partner of the firm’s Baltimore office, co-chaired the Baltimore project.

NTHP and ULI created the Partnership for Building Reuse in 2012 with Los Angeles serving as the pilot city.  Baltimore and Phila­delphia joined the Partnership in December, 2013 and Chicago and Louisville are expected to join in 2015.   A national summit will bring together urban leaders from across the country, including practitioners from the five cities, to explore lessons learned and establish a common policy agenda, the results of which will be shared in a summary publication.

As part of this effort, NTHP’s Preservation Green Lab conducted research into the connections between the vitality of city neighborhoods and the character of the city’s existing building stock.  The Green Lab’s findings show that older, small­er buildings contribute in key ways to the vitality of Baltimore and Philadelphia.   For example:

  • Older neighborhoods support the local economy and promote creative industries
  • Young people flock to old buildings
  • Old buildings attract good restaurants

The Partnership identified major obstacles to building reuse — including market, financial, technical, and regulatory barriers. These include:

  • Weak market demand and low rents
  • Acute social and economic challenges in many neighborhoods
  • Conflicts between reuse of existing buildings and zoning, energy and building code requirements, especially for smaller projects
  • Lack of incentives or difficulty in using tax credits and other incentives, especially for smaller projects and affordable housing
  • High construction costs and difficulty adapting certain building types for modern needs

With these and other barriers in mind, the reports recommend key strategies to optimize building reuse in Baltimore and Philadelphia.  In the coming months, NTHP and ULI will work with local partners and city leaders to advance the reports’ recommenda­tions and bring the benefits of building reuse to more Baltimore and Philadelphia neighborhoods and residents.  The goal of the national summit will be to further refine the recommendations from Baltimore and Philadelphia, along with those from Los Angeles, Chicago and Louisville, and to explore the applicability of the recommendations to other American cities.

We look forward to learning more from the Partnership for Building Reuse in the coming months and years.  For more information on the Partnership for Building Reuse, please visit http://preservationnation.org/greenlab.