By Bill Wilhelm

Adaptive reuse refers to the redevelopment or use of an old site or building for a purpose other than what it was originally built or designed for. The demand for adaptive reuse projects has increased significantly in the last few years, becoming more prevalent for hotel construction projects in high-density, urban areas. A majority of our company’s projects are now adaptive re-use or large-scale renovations – a significant shift from just a few years ago when ground-up construction was more widespread. In addition to solving for a lack of land supply for new construction, adaptive reuse offers a wide range of benefits for hotel owners, developers and the local community.

Historical Integrity With highly commoditized hotel chains saturating the market, hotel developers want to provide travelers with a personalized experience by offering accommodation that reflects the history, culture and texture of the surrounding city. Adaptive reuse gives hotel developments a competitive advantage by transforming abandoned or underutilized structures into a creative space. This is done by refurbishing existing materials, designs and finishings that preserve the building’s historical integrity. Building on existing structures in leu of demolition allows developers to preserve any historical or cultural ties the community may have to a building.

Economics From an economic standpoint, adaptive reuse is more cost-efficient because it reduces the price of materials and construction equipment. In addition, adaptive reuse projects have shorter timelines that allow hotel developers and builders to be nimbler when adjusting to new trends and any unforeseen shifts in supply and demand levels. The flexibility allows hotel developments to go to market much faster, meaning heads on beds and the hotel can be profitable much more quickly. Additionally, adaptive reuse can help reduce urban sprawl by revitalizing existing neighborhoods and encouraging upgrades to other structures and buildings in the surrounding area – providing economic benefits for the entire area.

Sustainability In almost all cases, adaptive reuse is more environmentally friendly than ground-up construction. Adaptive reuse projects have lower energy consumption and exert less pollution, which is often caused by the demolition of an existing structure, the additional machinery required and the transportation of raw materials. Furthermore, adaptive reuse protects the local environment by generating less waste in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Challenges While adaptive reuse offers a host of benefits, it also comes with its unique challenges. Oftentimes, unforeseen features that conflict with the planned project layout are the biggest obstacle. For example, when converting a 1960s office building in Los Angeles into a dual-brand hotel near the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), now known as the H Hotel, our team was surprised to find a walk-in vault buried behind the walls. Located dead-center on the first floor of the building, the vault overlapped a planned retail restaurant and unfortunately had to be removed, which isn’t a simple feat.

Additionally, we came across a backup transformer for the nearby airport, which was required to remain a part of the property. As a result, we coordinated a shutdown of backup emergency generators at LAX in order to update the transformer to meet electrical and safety requirements and worked with The Los Angeles Department for Work and Pensions to navigate additional requirements. Despite these challenges, we successfully completed the 12-story, 260,000-square-foot adaptive reuse project at a much lower budget than if it had been a ground-up project.

Adaptive reuse projects often are a necessity in high-demand, high-density areas, but they also offer many economic, environmental and social benefits for hotel owners, developers and the local community. As there continues to be less available land for new construction, adaptive reuse hotel projects will only become more prevalent.