Long Beach has a diverse array of buildings, with structures from different eras across the city. One way the city adds to the diversity of its structures is through adaptive reuse, the process of converting vacant spaces, often in older buildings, to a new function.
An adaptive reuse project converts a building’s use from one purpose to another. For example, the Belmont Heights restaurant The Attic was once a single-family home. Most of the city’s adaptive reuse projects are concentrated downtown, according to Long Beach Development Services Planning Manager Christopher Koontz.
“It is within our downtown core that we have our office and bank buildings that have great bones and incredible architecture,” Koontz said. “Adaptive reuse is a really necessary, important and successful way to take so many of our older buildings that have gone into some level of disrepair or are not used the same [way] and breathe new life into them.”
The city’s adaptive reuse incentive ordinance encourages adaptive reuse projects by granting allowances for seismic, parking and other typical development requirements. Providing such incentives benefits the city economically, according to Koontz, particularly when historic structures are converted and restored to provide new housing and employment opportunities. That restoration also works toward the city’s overall strategy for having a vibrant and populous downtown, he said.
One example of the many adaptive reuse projects in downtown is the former Verizon office building on 200 W. Ocean Blvd., which is being converted into housing by developer Milan Capital Management.
Local firm Studio One Eleven was behind the design of the building. According to the studio’s senior principal, Michael Bohn, if adaptive reuse was not an option, the building would have most likely been torn down. Bohn also noted that reusing buildings is a sustainable and greener approach, rather than trashing the debris from a torn down building. Studio One Eleven’s offices are in a building that was adaptively reused – they are located at a former Nordstrom Rack location at The Streets in downtown.
“Because of our need for housing, it is a great candidate for luxury housing on Ocean Boulevard,” Bohn said of 200 W. Ocean. “It’s great that we can find a new use for an old building that otherwise would not have been economically viable.”
Data from the California Department of Finance indicates that the housing vacancy rate in Long Beach dropped to 5.8% last year. As the city grows and increases its housing needs, adaptive reuse conversions to housing units is one solution, according to Jan van Dijs, principal of construction company JR van Dijs, Inc. The company converted the once City Hall East building on Long Beach Boulevard downtown into the Edison Lofts.
“We have a severe housing shortage in Long Beach,” van Dijs said. “So if you have a non-performing product that is commercial office and you could reposition it as housing, then that is a good thing for the community and I think that is a smart move.”
In terms of office vacancy rates, companies are continuing the trend of utilizing less square footage per employee, which results in a smaller overall footprint, according to Robert Kleinhenz, economist and executive director of research at Beacon Economics. Consequently, office towers have more vacant space, and demand for that space is decreasing, presenting an opportunity for adaptive reuse projects.
There are specific challenges to converting these spaces, according to Bohn. Office buildings lack the plumbing required to satisfy housing needs and older buildings often do not meet the seismic standards. Despite these challenges, Bohn thinks restoring these older buildings is a great thing to see in the city.
“All of the buildings have architectural attributes that are worth preserving,” van Dijs said. “I think this is one of the things that almost anybody can agree on: it is a good thing to reuse old buildings and to do it in a smart, creative way.”