Adaptive Reuse: Adaptive reuse refers to the process of reusing an old site or building for a purpose other than which it was built or designed for. Along with brownfield reclamation, adaptive reuse is seen by many as a key factor in land conservation and the reduction of urban sprawl.

At this moment there are three significant developments being conceptually reviewed within our district boundaries, and one within the Brewery Historic District though adjacent to German Village. They are located at 31 Livingston Avenue, 1140 S. Fourth St., 247-281 E. Livingston Avenue and in the Brewery District, 966 High Street.

It is clear that given the improvements being made to the 70/71 split, the explosive growth of Nationwide Children’s Hospital campus as well as the projected population growth for Columbus itself, that development opportunities will continue to impact not only historic districts such as German Village but existing building stock across the City.

When the preservation community and the development community combine their expertise and work together cooperatively, the opportunity to contribute to this city and the quality of life for its residents in positive and powerful ways increases exponentially.

In a previous post, I spoke of the benefits of retaining and reusing our existing buildings as an activity harmonious with the objectives of our heralded status as winner of the SMART City Challenge. Lets face it, recycling buildings is just as cool as recycling our plastics, glass and wood products, though a bit more complicated!

To review, recent data indicates that 25.1% or existing building stock across the city predates 1945. Such is considered ‘high character’ as it is generally comprised of mixed use, high-density building blocks of sound construction utilizing low toxicity materials.  Such inventory presents unbounded opportunities for adaptive reuse.

We are fortunate to have several successful adaptive reuse projects we can point to here in Columbus as examples of creative and responsible development: The Budd Dairy, North Market, Smith Hardware, to name a few. These are all high profile, big budget projects that were rendered financially feasible. What opportunities are there for the adaptive reuse of smaller footprint structures? Do they become too cost prohibitive for smaller developers as the square footage decreases? Are the barriers to successful adaptive reuse insurmountable for smaller developers and are we losing perfectly viable, limited quantity, high character, pre-1945 buildings to demolition because of these barriers?

Having attended HDC meetings over the past year and experienced firsthand the difficulty property owners experience with current zoning and code requirements when it comes to adaptive reuse and new construction within historic districts (including infill), I am convinced we can and should do better. And doing so does not require reinventing the wheel. But it does require political desire and community engagement.

According to extensive field research conducted by The Preservation Green Lab a project of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, the top barriers to building reuse are:


1) Issues with Zoning Codes


2) The Burden of Parking Requirements


3) The ability to find financing for building reuse


4) Inflexibility and complexity in a city’s building, energy, and seismic codes.


How can Columbus address barriers such as these for those wishing to adaptively reuse existing buildings in the city?  One promising solution would be the adoption of an Adaptive Reuse Ordinance.

Several cities including Los Angeles, Phoenix and others have adopted successful adaptive reuse policies. The Preservation Green Lab has developed a model Adaptive Reuse Ordinance based on these successful models.

Such an ordinance, if adopted would help Columbus unlock the potential of our older buildings by providing opportunities for smaller scale projects to become a reality. Adaptive reuse should not only be the domain of mega-developers who have the capacity to administratively and financially navigate what is currently a very complex process. Facilitating the adaptive reuse, the recycling of smaller, still viable structures opens the realm of possibility for women, minorities and others who may currently be shut out of participating in the growth of Columbus as commercial property owners.

A copy of the model Adaptive Reuse Ordinance may be found HERE.

The existing and available ‘high character’ building stock constructed prior to 1945 and found throughout the city possess the potential to provide affordable, creative and authentic work and live space if we can find ways to facilitate thoughtful development by both large and small developers. In these areas, as well as our historic districts, the creation of a well-crafted adaptive reuse ordinance will effectively remove several current barriers, streamlining the process for owners and developers, allowing us to tap the full potential of Columbus in a socially, culturally and environmentally responsible manner.


-Nancy Kotting, Historic Preservation Advocate