BY BRIAN D. CAPPELLI, BOMA FELLOW, RPA
People often ask me about what my company GBX Group does, and the best way to explain it is by describing our new headquarters in the Empire Improvement Building. The property was a garment manufacturing facility in the early 1900s, but it was nearly vacant when we purchased it. We transformed the historic building into a state-of-the-art office space (pictured, below) that still shows off the exposed brick and high ceilings of the interior and preserves its character. The area around the building has transformed from the old garment district into the Superior Arts District, a mecca for the city’s creative community. The story of our building and its neighborhood is just one of countless stories of similar transformations happening around the globe.
People interact with buildings differently than they once did. Enormous brass-and-glass lobbies might have impressed tenants 30 years ago, but today’s workers want spaces full of energy and activity. They want amenities that will allow them to squeeze in an hour at the gym or grab lunch with friends outside. More people—in every generation—are moving back into the cities, feeding a reurbanization trend. They want to live near where they work in neighborhoods full of character and history. These are spaces that foster community and connection.
Our work with adaptive reuse is one of the most rewarding parts of my role with GBX Group. In some cases, we take buildings that were once thriving but have been vacant for decades in forgotten neighborhoods—and transform them completely. These transformations breathe new life into an area and can revitalize the local economy, creating a brighter future without destroying the area’s past. Doing this takes a great deal of expertise and careful planning. Reinventing these spaces requires imagination: A historic office building can become a boutique hotel; a former factory can become an office building; a 1980s corporate headquarters can become a live-work-play project.
In a way, commercial property professionals are guardians of the built environment. We have to think long term about how the decisions we make today will impact the property decades into the future. We must consider how our work interacts with the community around us. We have to stay ahead of current trends, carefully observing how people prefer to live and work and helping them do this better.
Many adaptive reuse projects are partially funded by historic tax credits, conservation easements and other incentives. These are critical to making such developments viable. Our industry is tasked with caring for our aging building stock, especially as more and more of these properties become functionally obsolete. This is one of the reasons why I’m so proud of the work BOMA International does in driving the industry forward—from BOMA’s advocacy work in preserving historic tax credits to connecting people working on similar projects. BOMA International serves as a guardian of our industry, helping property professionals do important work.
As an industry, we need to be aware that we are in the midst of a moment that is all about authenticity and experiences. This has helped fuel the "rediscovery" of forgotten properties. There are many different approaches to remaking our aging building stock, and our approach at GBX Group is only one of them. Property professionals are creative people. We’re constantly adapting, reinventing, repurposing and trying new things, and that is something that never changes.
This article was originally published in the September/October 2018 issue of BOMA Magazine.