Four Steps to a Successful Adaptive Reuse Project

By Erika Schnitzer, Associate Editor When it comes to adaptive reuse projects, developers must take a variety of steps to ensure successful preservation. “I like to think of it as the preservation of our cultural patrimony, the recycling of our built environment,” says David Abramson of Newark, N.J.-based David Abramson & Associates, who specializes in historic preservation and adaptive reuse. In Morristown, N.J., Vail Mansion, originally built as a single-family home in the 1920s and later used as the town hall, is being converted into commercial space adjacent to a 35-unit luxury condominium development. Developed by Parsippany, N.J.-based Woodmont Properties, in a joint venture with The Applied Companies and Roseland Property Company, the project is age-targeted, but not restricted, towards 55 and older and most residents are trade-down buyers. The units, designed by Norristown, Pa.-based BartonPartners Architects and Planners, Inc., are mostly two-bedrooms and prices range from the low-$700,000s to $1.7 million. The development is over 90 percent sold. At an issues forum in Morristown, Abramson discussed the crucial steps a developer must take throughout an adaptive reuse project. 1. Assemble a Team Though perhaps obvious, Abramson notes the importance of building a team that has experience in adaptive reuse developments. The team must understand the importance of maintaining the historical site, explains Abramson, or else the preservation will not work. As part of the Morristown Historic District, life safety factors, building codes and historical societies all need to be considered for this project. 2. Preserve Historical Integrity Used as Morristown’s town hall for many decades, Vail Mansion has stood as the focal point of the town and therefore represents the town’s history. As such, Abramson believes that the design of the residences should be incorporated into the history of the mansion. The exterior site has been fully restored by landscape architects and a complete maintenance plan has been prepared. Additionally, although numerous codes mandate that certain aspects of the site be preserved, the interior is usually not considered. At Vail, however, the interior was restored to its original state. 3. Involve the Community While the conservation of the building itself is certainly crucial, it helps if residents are committed to the historical preservation as well. “Ninety percent of the residents at Vail are local and understand what it means to be a part of the history of Morristown,” explains Abramson. Additionally, though the plans for the mansion itself have yet to be decided, Stephen Santola, executive vice president and general counsel for Woodmont Properties, says, “There will be a public use to the building.” The grounds outside the mansion are open to the public, and the additional parking added to the property will provide some spaces for the public visiting the surrounding shops, restaurant and theater located next door. 4. Ensure Renovations Complement Existing Structure Abramson notes the importance of incorporating the feel of the mansion into the residences. To that end, the units must be spacious and luxurious, though not necessarily modern. Additionally, the exteriors of the new building are designed to match the exterior of the preserved mansion. The new condos are just as luxurious as the mansion itself. The initial plans for the development called for 48 units, but as a result of buyer demand for more space, the finished project contains 35 units. Each residence includes hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. Plans for community amenities will include a fitness center, multimedia room, private parking and concierge services.