ULI Philadelphia Blog

Building Reuse Key to Broader Revitalization of Philadelphia

New report highlights barriers and recommendations to promote reuse

PHILADELPHIA –Reusing and adapting many of the city’s older, smaller buildings can help the city extend the benefits of revitalization beyond Center City, according to a study released today by the Partnership for Building Reuse and led locally by the ULI Philadelphia District Council. More than 200 real estate professionals joined keynote speakers Jim Lindberg and Mike Powe, of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Green Lab, along with a panel of local experts, to learn more about the report’s priority recommendations, needed partners, resources, and next steps at a forum hosted by ULI Philadelphia this morning.

A joint effort between the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Urban Land Institute, the Partnership for Building Reuse is designed to foster market-driven reuse of vacant and underused buildings in cities across the country. Philadelphia is one of five cities participating in this initiative.

The report, Retrofitting Philadelphia: The Partnership for Building Reuse,recommends strategies for how to increase investment and revitalization across the city while acknowledging the city’s well documented barriers to reuse, including high construction and labor costs, weak market conditions, low rents, and difficulty in acquiring long abandoned structures. The report also identifies areas of opportunity that are poised for near term success. Nearly 50 local real estate developers, architects, contractors, historic preservation advocates, community development practitioners, green building leaders, planners, building code officials, and others were engaged by the Partnership of Building Reuse for the study over the past year.

“Philadelphia has a rich history of successfully converting older properties into assets that attract young people and drive growth,” said Jim Lindberg, Planning Director at the National Trust’s Preservation Green Lab. “With the population continuing to grow downtown, Philadelphia is poised to become an innovative national leader in sustainable development and building reuse.”

Reusing older, smaller buildings in Philadelphia is proven to contribute in key ways to the vitality of the city. For example:

  • The creative economy thrives in older neighborhoods. There is an average of 4.6 jobs in creative industries in areas of the city characterized by older, smaller, mixed-vintage blocks, compared to an average of 2.9 jobs in areas with mostly larger, newer buildings.
  • Young people love old buildings. The average median age of residents in areas of the city characterized by older, smaller buildings is 35.6 years, compared to 41.2 years in areas with dominated by larger, newer buildings.
  • Good restaurants fit well in older buildings. Nearly 64 percent of Philadelphia Magazine’s 2013 “Top 50 Restaurants” and “Top 50 Bars” are located in buildings constructed before 1920, well above the citywide total of 50 percent of commercial businesses located in buildings of that vintage.

“We know that vacant and underused buildings can be transformed into vibrant and productive workplaces, world-class hotels and restaurants, residences, civic spaces, and other positive economic drivers,” said Chris Hager, Chair of ULI Philadelphia. “In partnership with the Preservation Alliance and other organizations and community leaders, ULI Philadelphia will facilitate the implementation of this report to promote building reuse and create a thriving Philadelphia, responsibly.”

The report offers several strategies and recommendations to promote building reuse in Philadelphia. These include adding building reuse to the Philadelphia political agenda for the 2015 municipal elections; extending and marketing the benefits of building reuse and community developments to more areas of the city; and expanding historic preservation tools and incentives for building reuse.

Download the report.

Urban Land Institute Philadelphia

The Urban Land Institute is a nonprofit education and research institute whose mission is to provide responsible leadership in the use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide.  Established in 1936, ULI today has more than 32,000 members around the globe, representing the entire spectrum of land use and development disciplines.  Our members include developers, builders, property owners, investors, architects, public officials, planners, brokers, appraisers, attorneys, engineers, financiers, academics, students and librarians.

The Philadelphia District Council encompasses about 850 members throughout Eastern and Central Pennsylvania, the southern half of New Jersey and the State of Delaware.  It is one of the most robust District Councils in the country, experiencing strong growth and introducing new initiatives.  For more information please visit www.uliphiladelphia.org.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately-funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places. Learn moreat www.PreservationNation.org and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, through its Preservation Green Lab, strengthens the fabric of communities by leveraging the value of existing buildings to reduce resource waste, create jobs and bolster a strong sense of community. The Preservation Green Lab integrates sustainability with historic preservation by developing research, demonstration projects and policies that decrease demolition and promote building reuse. Guided by a belief that historic preservation is essential to sustainable development, the Preservation Green Lab works with partners to create new pathways to shared prosperity and bring people together around a common vision for their neighborhoods, towns and cities. www.preservationnation.org/greenlab


Media Contacts:

Rebecca Devine

Maven Communications



Andy Grabel
National Trust for Historic Preservation



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