Monday, January 6, 2014

New Life for Older Buildings

Hello Everyone:

Happy New Year.  I hope you all had a wonderful time celebrating the start of 2014 last night and had a chance to listen to the playlist I posted.  I know it has nothing to do with architecture, historic preservation, urban planning and design but I thought might find the seriously funky dance music on it worth a listen.  I about a week since we hit 5,000 page views I see that we're already heading toward 6,000 page views.  That's so amazing.  I think we can do 10,000 page views by April 1.  Are you up for the challenge?

World Trade Center, New Orleans, La
Edward Durell Stone (1966-67)
One of the trends that caught on in 2013 and looks to be an important topic in the new year is late modern architecture.  By late modern architecture, I'm referring to modern architecture from the sixties through the eighties.  One example is the World Trade Center in New Orleans, Louisiana (1966-67) by Edward Durell Stone.  In June 2013 the Documentation and Conservation of the Modern Movement (DoCoMoMo) published an article in their U.S. newsletter on the plight of the WTC in New Orleans.  The former International Trade Mart Building was in danger of being razed while the city pondered proposals regarding the redevelopment of the building.  This is a situation that more and more buildings from this period are running up against as they go out of fashion and are left vacant.  However, hoteliers such as Starwood's W and Aloft brands has begun to look at mid-century commercial buildings as potential sites for redevelopment and new construction.

The city of New Orleans put out a public Request for Proposals in January 2013 for the WTC's building and the surrounding site.  Gatehouse Capital corporation of Dallas, Texas (and largest developer of the W Hotel chain), James H. Burch LLC, and Tricentennial Consortium, a coalition of the leaders of New Orleans' major tourism organizations all submitted proposals for the redevelopment of the site.  Gatehouse and James H. Burch's proposals focused on repurposing the building into a hotel and residential condominiums.  Tricentennial's proposal looked to take down the building and construct an "iconic symbol" of New Orleans in its place as a way to generate more tourism.  How lame does that sound?  Although many civic officials favor demolition, including May Mitch Landrieu, the New Orleans Building Corporation chose to go with Gatehouse's proposal because they had the clearest vision of redevelopment and economic development the others lacked.  The Gatehouse proposal included the conversion of the lower twelve floors of the thirty-three story building into a 245-room W Hotel and the remaining floors would be repurposed as luxury condominiums.  While the plans haven't been finalized yet, the two parties entered into lease negotiations this past September.

New Orleans World Trade Center
New Orleans, Louisiana
Although the redevelopment of the New Orleans WTC is controversial and mired in politics, the decision to accept Gatehouse's proposal shows the city's consideration of the importance of this build to New Orleans and its potential to stimulate future growth and economic development.  It's also fascinating to point out that, although adaptive reuse is not something new, the fact that the W Hotel is looking at mid-century commercial property to showcase its line of upscale hotels, appears to be part of a growing trend in commercial hospitality design.  Its sister brand, Aloft, is also taking advantage of empty mid-century architecture and converting the properties into boutique hotels.  In the last two years, Aloft has developed buildings in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Orlando, Florida, and is considering the former Mercantile Bank in Tampa, Florida.

The restoration of the Old City Hal Tower in Tulsa, OK is a current example this current of restoring mid-century modern
Old City Hall Tower
Tulsa, Oklahoma
buildings.  Built in 1969 in Tulsa's downtown  historic civic complex, the building acted as the City Hall until 2008 when it was rendered unable to effectively meet the needs of the occupants and the core of operations for city government was moved to One Technology Center on the east of town.  In 2010, after standing vacant for two years, developers Brickhugger LLC bought the property with every intention of converting it into an Aloft hotel.  The hotel opened in May 2013, incorporating the original marble walls and terrazzo floors into the design along with other design elements such as the furniture and the lighting.  The original concrete exterior was also preserved with the addition of Q7 LED pars which illuminate the building at night, making it the most recognizable landmark in Tulsa.  Its new role and central location is within easy access to the places such as the Bank of Oklahoma Center and provides the city with a hip modern place to go after work.  Despite the fact that many Tulsa residents consider the building an eyesore, it has become a vital part of Tulsa's growing economic and aesthetic development in the eighties and was listed as part of Civic Center Historic District in January 2012.

Orlando Utilities Commission Building
Orlando, Florida
Another Aloft development, in Orlando, Florida is the repurposing of the Orlando Utilities Commission Building by Richard Boone Rodgers  and completed in 1967.  The building sat vacant between 2008 and 2011, when New York based developers GDC Properties LLC purchased it.  The Utilities Commission building was designated a local landmark and placed in the National Register of Historic Places. Repurposing  provided an excellent opportunity for developers to take advantage of historic preservation tax credits.  The terrazzo floors, teak wood paneling, the executive office suite will be preserved and ultimately, the hotel will serve as a link between the building's past and future through giving guests a chance to enjoy a landmark piece of architecture before trotting off to Walt Disney World.

As the American economy s-l-o-w-l-y begins to rebound, adaptive reuse is beginning to be recognized as smart approach for hoteliers looking to attract a younger generation by providing innovative technology in a mid-century setting.  No big surprise that the real estate industry has taken notice.  This trend was a major subject of discussion at the Crittenden National Real Estate Conference this past spring.  Panelists discussed the benefits of adaptive reuse (I have yet to hear of any negatives), touching on the tax incentives and highlighting the advantage that historic buildings have in creating a narrative in a modern setting that presents a city's march into the future.  The mid-century modern buildings in Tulsa, New Orleans, and Orlando have found new life as symbols of innovation and cutting-edge design.

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