Do we or don’t we? Implications of preserving commercial buildings

6a00e554dac0858833014e6098b20e970c-800wiThere was a time when commercial real estate developers were happy to tear down the old and reconstruct new. But a change in thinking geared towards preserving the integrity of old buildings has property owners facing new challenges.

Aesthetics

Is the building truly and authentically beautiful? Or is it uninspiring architecture?

To make preservation worthwhile, you must have a building is viewed as attractive. Or at the very least, can be easily retrofitted to look more attractive.

An example of this was the former Capitol Theatre at 216 1st Ave S. Because of the previous use, the building had very little front glazing. Mitchell Developments, under the vision of Mitch Molnar, could see the potential however.

The property transformed from a movie theatre to a very functional four storey office building with indoor parking. Light penetration achieved by the redesign has illuminated all floors and breathed new life into the property.

Cap-Centre

Functionality

Can the building to be converted to another use or something more common in nature? Or is it set up for one use only?

We often use the term functionally obselescent when referring to a property that is only good for one purpose. It’s not to say there isn’t some portion of the structure that could be reused; however, the process of retrofitting or reusing is cost prohibitive.

Dollars and sense play a large role in determining how much work a landlord has to put into a space to make it leaseable. Making sure the work he/she puts back into the building can be justified through rental rates is prudent.

Often the standard that is expected from tenants today simply can’t be achieved in an old property. The demand for communications or increased electrical power can’t be supported in some existing structures.

Location

Does preserving the structure take away from or enhance the neighbourhood?

Some neighbourhoods in Saskatoon are seeing big changes, such as Riversdale. 20th Street W is seeing an influx of business owners looking for good value and a funky vibe.

I predict that the eclectic taste of these retailers can support both revitalization and new construction. There are a few structures in this area that simply can’t be saved. Years of deferred maintenance have rendered them unable to reuse.

The buildings that can be turned around are, however. Take the Adilman Building for example. A lot of sweat equity has brought this building back to a functional place to set up shop.

Adilmans

With attractive and competitive rates for the area, the Landlord has been able to attract a high end home and goods retailer for the main floor, small patisserie for the side street entrance and professional office users for the second floor.

So the answer is…

If it makes sense financially and creates leasable space, I totally advocate the restoration of older buildings. I don’t think emotions have any place in making that decision though. If something can’t be used, I think it’s fair to allow someone the right to resurrect the site into something else.

Heritage Canada has the following properties listed as saved or endangered in Saskatchewan. Anything you’d add to the list or like to see reborn?

Posted by Kelly Macsymic

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3 Comments

  1. Some developers may overlook the intangible fInancial value of heritage. My experience is that promoting the history of a building can be a cost effective way to improve branding and draw tenants. It doesn’t cost much to put up some old photos but the payback can be great.

    • I agree, Dave. I think one of the coolest aspects of a historic building is knowing the history behind it. Thanks for the comment! – Kelly

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