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Building Consensus: Adaptive Reuse

July 8, 2024

YIMBYs vs. NIMBYs. Preservationists vs. Developers. It’s easy to get caught up in a binary “us vs. them” debate about saving St. Petersburg’s historic buildings.

But, according to the results of Keeping the Vibe Alive: The Impact of Historic Preservation in St. Petersburg, there’s more consensus than you might think.

Results from planning firm Place Economics show that around 85% of survey respondents felt that the adaptive reuse of older structures was "somewhat" or "very" important. Even respondents who did not consider historic preservation a top priority still thought adaptive reuse was important for sustainability. Among those respondents, 43.3% called adaptive reuse “very Important,” while another 33.3% called it “somewhat Important.”

That's what consensus looks like.

Adaptive reuse of historic buildings is the process of repurposing old structures for new uses while maintaining their historical and architectural significance. This approach allows buildings to be preserved and used in ways that meet contemporary needs, offering a blend of heritage conservation and modern functionality. 

Preserve the ‘Burg often touts the cultural benefits of older structures, and the emphasis on heritage and cultural tourism and community identity has seeped into the public discourse. Owners of historic spaces also understand the marketability of unique and character-rich architectural features not found in newer buildings.

Less talked about, however, are the environmental and economic benefits of adaptive reuse. 

Take the sustainability question posed to survey responents in the Place Economics study, who clearly understand that prioritizing the reuse of buildings reduces the demand for new construction materials and decreases waste, contributing to environmental sustainability. A building constructed once and then reused over and over is the very definition of "reduce, reuse, recycle."

“Embodied energy,” as it's sometimes called, found in a 100-year-old building may not exactly be a selling point for a developer eying a new project, but public policies that encourage the reuse of historic structures could offer an attractive benefit for builders. And, while these benefits are typically offered under the rubric of historic preservation - the Ad Valorem Tax Exemption and the Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit are two examples - incentives for older structures could also fit neatly into any city’s resiliency and sustainability efforts.

Did you know? Construction materials or "C&D debris" makes up one quarter of landfill waste in Pinellas County. 

Like “heritage tourism,” most people understand the power of an activated “main street” to drive tourism and foster small businesses. The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2014 study “Older, Smaller, Better” illustrates the link between small businesses and older buildings while, locally, our Place Economics study shows a clear connection between small businesses and historic buildings. 

Older buildings along Central Avenue, between 1st and 34th St., are overwhelmingly home to locally owned businesses, while newer buildings along this strip are more likely to either be vacant or house a chain business. 

Whether concerned about sustainability or looking to support small businesses, the Place Economics report clearly shows that St. Petersburg residents - passionate preservationists and those who don’t think too much about old buildings - appreciate the “vibe” of the city’s older buildings and want to see more of them reused.  

Read the full report here.

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