Adaptive Reuse – What will become of that vacant big box?

cornmill_reuseThe key to adaptive reuse has always been a re-purposing to meet current market demand, or in some cases, anticipating future market demand by becoming a trendsetter. Adaptive Reuse was originally conceived as a way to preserve historically significant architecture that was no longer viable for its intended purpose; an example of this was the inception of the first warehouse-to-loft conversions, i.e. the reuse of turn of the century inner city industrial space for residential purposes. This trend continued to be popular throughout the 1990’s, and was further embraced by the mainstream during the 2000’s.

Although not as chic as a turn of the century industrial complex, the ever present large format retail building or big-box has been receiving attention of late. As evermore large commercial buildings are abandoned by their original tenants, these “big-boxes” oftentimes remain vacant for long durations due to their size and orientation. Many retailers are unable to fill and efficiently utilize such a cavernous space, upwards of 200,000 square feet, and therefore these hulks often become chronically vacant spaces.

bigboxThe loss of a big-box may also trigger the decline of an entire shopping center. This chain reaction can wreak havoc on a communities’ economy, not only eliminating tax revenue, but reducing jobs and entrepreneurship. These chronic vacancies may lead to blight and other undesirable characteristics and have therefore made this chronic big-box vacancy an increasingly hotter issue for many communities.

Adaptive reuse depends upon a community’s policies and regulations, but some examples include the following:


The right adaptive reuse policy for large vacant retail spaces in your community may be different than others, fortunately, there are already scores of existing policies and regulations to examine and emulate. From New Jersey’s statewide redevelopment plan requirements, to Los Angeles’ Adaptive Reuse Ordinance; it is clear that adaptive reuse policy and regulations have been gaining steam and making an impact on communities from coast to coast.