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Adaptive Reuse - Examples and Resources

Posted on Wednesday, June 9th, 2021

Adaptive reuse refers to the process of reusing an existing building for a purpose other than which it was originally built or designed for. Many cities have old buildings that have been abandoned, and they are seeking ways to repurpose these buildings. Adaptive reuse promotes environmental sustainability by reducing the amount of demolition debris being disposed of in landfills. It also promotes economic sustainability by helping buildings remain viable community assets.

According to Nancy Thompson from Useful Community Development “Re-purposing of buildings is a simple idea for community improvement, but often more difficult to implement because of the construction challenges that old buildings present. However, preservation of the history and often the architectural charm of the old building makes these projects exciting and valuable. In addition, reuse of buildings reduces the carbon footprint and solid waste inherent in building demolition and new construction.” 

A literature search revealed many examples of adaptive reuse of buildings, many of which are in smaller communities throughout the U.S. The following adaptive reuse examples include reuse of schools, churches, hotels, an armory, a railroad depot and several other examples.

School Reuse Examples

Phenix Elementary School in West Des Moines, Iowa closed in 2014, and has now been renovated into 17 one, two and three bedroom apartments, at a cost of $4.8 million. Most units are rented to artists within the community, but some will be available to anyone looking to rent at market price, although artists receive preference. The building’s residents live and work in the former school, utilizing shared studio space. The project used about $3 million in Community Development Block Grant money from the federal government along with other grants and loans. Read an article about the project HERE.

A former Junior High School in Grinnell, Iowa was converted into Hotel Grinnell, a 45-room boutique hotel that includes a 300 seat ballroom, a 450 seat auditorium, a lobby bar and an outdoor patio. Classrooms were converted into hotel rooms, lockers were re-purposed and made into benches in some rooms, and the old gymnasium is now the hotel’s ballroom and hosts weddings and other events. The project was funded with private equity, historic tax credits, the Iowa Reinvestment Act, local motel tax, property tax reimbursement over time (TIFF) and a large bridge loan. 

The former Clinton High School and Public Library was remodeled into 16 mixed income apartments, using $3 million in federal Community Development Block Grant funds. Other funding sources for the project include developer equity, conventional financing, and state historic tax credits. The project total expense was $4.8 million. The City of Clinton and Clinton Community School District, as well as the Iowa Economic Development Authority, Eastern Iowa Regional Housing Corporation, Eastern Iowa Intergovernmental Association, and Iowa State Historic Preservation Office were all key partners. Read about the project HERE.

A former middle school in Cloquet, Minnesota was remodeled and repurposed into apartments, at a cost of $12 million. State and federal housing tax credit and historical tax credits were the source of funding for the project. The project includes 57 apartments for mixed income residents. The school district also rents some office space in the basement. The success of this project was attributed to the school district’s dedicated committee of champions, and the partnership of the school district and city. (Source: "Adaptive Reuse of Historic Buildings in Rural Minnesota" by Kathryn Stover, University of Minnesota Extension)

In Eagle Bend, Minnesota, there was a need to expand their senior meals program so they remodeled one wing of a former school building into a commercial kitchen, at a cost of $800,000. Several grants were obtained to complete the project, as well as donations from individuals and philanthropic organizations. Future plans include overhauling the rest of the school for housing and a performing arts venue. (Source: "Adaptive Reuse of Historic Buildings in Rural Minnesota" by Kathryn Stover, University of Minnesota Extension)

Historic Central School in Grand Rapids, Minnesota is a 10,000 square foot building that houses three stories of space around an open staircase. Since there is more common area than leasable space, affordable housing was not really an option for reusing the building. The building currently houses the Visitors and Convention bureau and some commercial tenants, although the city has struggled to find tenants that can thrive in the space. Funding sources for the remodeling project included a referendum authorizing general obligation bonds, a local tax increase and a grant from a foundation. (Source:"Adaptive Reuse of Historic Buildings in Rural Minnesota" by Kathryn Stover, University of Minnesota Extension)

In Haddam, KS there is a honey packaging plant in the cafeteria in the old elementary school. In Cuba, KS the gymnasium in the old high school is now home to a flatbed and grain trailer manufacturing center. In Fairfield, VT a group of women secured a grant and volunteered to remodel their school into a center for “cradle to grave” services. Read about these projects in this article, "Adaptive Reuse of Rural Schools & the Effects on Community & Quality of Life" by Hillary L'Ecuyer, Kansas State University.

Church Reuse Examples

The Historic All Saints Church in Stuart, Iowa has been transformed by a $4 million restoration project into the Saints Center, a community cultural center that hosts concerts, school events, weddings, family gatherings and conferences. The City of Stuart was awarded a Vision Iowa grant for the project, and then passed a tax referendum in order to help pay for the project.

A brick church built in 1898 in Fairmont, Minnesota was remodeled and is now used as an art gallery, concert hall and public event space. There are about 75-100 events (smaller weddings and receptions, and graduation, anniversary and birthday parties, etc.) held per year in the building. Rental income subsidizes a large portion of the arts programming held in the building. The cost of the project was originally estimated at $1.2 million, but was completed with volunteer labor at a cost of $650,000. Funding sources include a grant, private loans and donations. (Source: "Adaptive Reuse of Historic Buildings in Rural Minnesota" by Kathryn Stover, University of Minnesota Extension)

A church in St. Martinsville, LA was turned into a 1400 sf home. A loft was built for the master bedroom and bath, and the altar became the kitchen. Another church in New England was converted into a 4,000 sf home. The sanctuary was transformed into two lofts connected by a catwalk, the choir loft became a master bedroom and a bathroom was installed in the steeple. Read about these projects on CNN

In the Village of Mamaroneck, NY (Westchester County) a chapel was turned into a winery, another church was turned into a music venue/co-working space, and a former chapel was turned into condo units. Read about these projects in the presentation, "An Approach to Adaptive Reuse of Religious and Educational Buildings" by the Planning Department at the Village of Mamaroneck.

Hotel Reuse

A former hotel in Long Prairie, Minnesota was repurposed into affordable housing units, at a total cost of $2.6 million. It is currently owned by the Central Minnesota Housing Partnership and the Long Prairie Housing and Redevelopment Authority. Funding sources included: Federal Home Loan Bank; deferred development fees, loans, housing tax credits and historic tax credits (federal). The building now includes 17 apartments, including efficiencies, with one and two bedrooms. Rents must be kept at 60 percent of the area median income because low income housing tax credits were used. (Source: "Adaptive Reuse of Historic Buildings in Rural Minnesota" by Kathryn Stover, University of Minnesota Extension)

An old hotel in Leadville, CO was renovated into 36 affordable housing units, with ground-floor retail space. The property was initially developed using a Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program, and then Overland Property Group purchased the building and invested over $9 million into the project. 

Other Reuse Examples

The former N.B. Glover sewing factory in Dyersville, Iowa was converted into a brewery, taproom, community gathering space and art studio. In a public-private partnership, Dyersville Economic Development Corporation helped to resuscitate the 115-year-old vacated downtown building into Textile Brewing Company. Partial funding came from a $100,000 Community Catalyst Building Remediation grant from the Iowa Economic Development Authority. Read an article about the project HERE.

A former Odd Fellows Building in Jefferson, Iowa was transformed into Jefferson Forge, an initiative that is designed to create a pipeline of software developers, providing opportunities for students and individuals within a 30-mile radius around Jefferson. Financing came from federal, state, and local sources, including USDA’s Rural Economic Development Loan, federal historic tax credits, state historic tax credits, state redevelopment tax credits, IEDA’s Community Catalyst grant, City of Jefferson TIF, City of Jefferson façade grant, and a grant from Greene County Development Corporation.

The former Post Office in Cedar Falls, Iowa was first adapted to office space, but later transformed into Bike Tech, a retail bike shop. The Cedar Falls Development Group worked with Bike Tech to restore the post office into retail space. The bike shop is a good use for the building because it requires a large open space, just like the original post office lobby. In addition to stakeholder investments, the project successfully leveraged state and federal historic tax credits. Read about the project HERE.

A grain elevator in Lansing, Iowa was converted into a coffee shop named Coffee on the River, with the owners doing 85-90 percent of the work themselves. They obtained a business loan of $52,000 to start their business; $31,000 of that was used for business start-up costs (equipment, kitchen supplies, inventory), while $16,000 was dedicated to building materials, electricians, plumbing, and a contractor. Read about the project HERE.

An armory built in St. Peter, Minnesota in 1913 has been reused as a call center and a yoga studio, and is now an event center. The current remodel cost $325,000 and was funded by a locally controlled revolving loan fund.  The building has over 3,000 square feet of rental spaces for weddings and other large gatherings and a commercial kitchen for rent. (Source: "Adaptive Reuse of Historic Buildings in Rural Minnesota" by Kathryn Stover, University of Minnesota Extension)

A former Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad depot in Staples, Minnesota was sold to the Staples Historical Society for $1 in 2008. The historical Society has spent $1 million refurbishing the depot into a train station for Amtrak, as well as office space for rent and a museum. The Minnesota Historical Society was the funding source for the project, and they have also received donations and gifts from the NP Foundation and from Northern Pacific. (Source: "Adaptive Reuse of Historic Buildings in Rural Minnesota" by Kathryn Stover, University of Minnesota Extension)

The former Hayden Co-Operative Elevator Company in Hayden, Colorado is now the Wild Goose Coffeehouse, with plans to repurpose the site to include community event space, artist studios and galleries, a local food cooperative and office space. 

Loveland’s First National Bank (Loveland, CO) was renovated into co-working spaces at a range of membership levels. It has capacity for 204 workers. 

Local 111, a 39-seat chef-owned restaurant in the upper Hudson Valley, used to be a gas station in Philmont, NY. Capital Rep, a 286-seat theater in Albany, New York, used to be a downtown supermarket. Former factories have been turned into museums. Read about these projects in "Giving Old Buildings New Life Through Adaptive Reuse" by Jackie Craven on ThoughtCo.

A list of possible new uses for old schools, factories, gas stations, motels, malls, churches, stores, post offices, banks, and many other examples can be found on Useful Community Development. This page also provides tips on how to organize for an adaptive reuse project. Preservation Iowa includes several Iowa adaptive reuse examples on their website.