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TRENDS, STATS & FACTS BY PHIL MOBLEY BUILDING COMMUNITY WITH ADAPTIVE REUSE George C. Nimmons is the most important name no one knows behind one of commercial real estate’s hottest trends. Nimmons designed a series of gargantuan facilities in the 1920s to support Sears, Roebuck & Company’s huge mail- order business. By the end of the decade, cities across the United States had “Sears Buildings,” which were built in the art deco style of the period and typically placed along rail lines just outside central business districts. Everything about these Nimmons-designed properties, from their locations to their bulk, supported the single pur- pose of moving the company’s vast array of household goods to customers. But as the mail-order business declined, Sears steadily abandoned them. By the mid-1990s, most lay empty and decaying. Happily, their stories do not end there. America’s cities are full of structures that, though func- tionally obsolete based on their original designs, hold great local or historical significance—and contain unique vacant spaces with endless potential. Today, many are experiencing a renaissance through what is known as “adaptive reuse.” Transit stations, power plants and mills all are being reimag- ined as modern multiuse destinations, providing unconven- tional settings to traditional commercial tenants and serving communities in the process. Some of the highest-profile examples of adaptive reuse are occurring at Nimmons’ old distribution centers, a few of which are now on the National Register of Historic Places. Boston’s Landmark Center became an office, medical and retail center in 2000. The nearly identical Midtown Exchange in Minneapolis was vacant for more than a decade before reopening in 2005 with two apartment complexes, a corpo- rate headquarters and an international food bazaar. Sears sold its Atlanta facility to the city in 1990, and it was known as City Hall East for more than 20 years. When it was trans- formed into Ponce City Market in 2014, it instantly became one of the hippest residential and shopping destinations in town. Naturally, such projects present both enormous possibili- ties and tremendous challenges. Dan Chancey, vice presi- dent and senior asset manager with Cushman & Wakefield/ Commercial Advisors Asset Services, is consulting at Cross- town Concourse, the new name of an old Sears facility in Memphis, Tennessee. For 20 years, the site was the subject of many “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” conversations among Mem- phians. It is scheduled to reopen in 2017 as a mixed-use “vertical urban village” after years of planning. When it does, Chancey will oversee operations as the unofficial “Mayor of Crosstown.” The possibilities of adaptive reuse are illustrated in this rendering of Crosstown Concourse, the new name of an old Sears facility in Memphis, Tennessee. The process has been both long and complex. Crosstown has obtained a total of $200 million in commitments from 30 financial backers, including private investors, philanthro- pists and government entities at the city, county, state and federal levels. “This has always been a shared, collaborative experience, not just one developer’s vision,” says Chancey. “Our goal is not just to renovate a building, but to build the community. We have focused on bringing different uses and tenants together as active participants in that community, not just co-located entities.” The numbers associated with Crosstown are staggering. “All that is left of the original structure is the shell,” explains Chancey. “Everything internal—mechanical, electrical, plumbing—will be newly installed.” A total of 1.1 million square feet are being renovated. The exterior will require 3,200 new window sections, more than are at the White House and U.S. Capitol combined. The seven miles of new HVAC piping are enough to air-condition 700 three-bed- room houses. All this means that the old building will oper- ate with modern effectiveness, further enhancing its appeal. “Adaptive reuse tends to fit a multiuse strategy,” Chancey says, noting that the best examples he has seen include a residential component. “In our case, the size of the project also means it will be a springboard for even greater rein- vestment in the submarket.” The mix of tenants is crucial to achieve the sense of community desired by developers. Crosstown already has leasing commitments of 450,000 square feet from organizations in healthcare, education and the arts. It also will feature 65,000 square feet of retail space and 270 apartments. Planners expect 3,000 residents, office workers and shoppers to experience the property each day, accounting for $50 million in annual wages from permanent jobs. With the combination of innovation, collaboration and community focus, Crosstown Concourse and its sister build- ings embody the latest in 21st century commercial real estate. And through adaptive reuse, these projects—and others like them—are preserving the legacy of George C. Nimmons and other great architects of the 20th century. B ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Phil Mobley is a frequent contributor to BOMA Magazine. He is principal of Koine Communications, a research, consulting and content strategy firm that serves the commercial real estate industry. He can be reached at email@example.com. BOMA MAGAZINE 31