Construction Trends in Urban Markets: ARCO/Murray’s Vice President Ross Allen on the Diverse Range of Adaptive Reuse Projects

ARCO/Murray's Ross Allen on the Connect CRE Adaptive Reuse and Multifamily Panel in Chicago

Ross Allen, Vice President of ARCO/Murray’s Tenant Solutions team, recently participated in Connect CRE’s Multifamily and Adaptive Reuse Trends conference that took place in Chicago, Illinois. Allen sat on Connect CRE’s third panel and actively contributed to the topic of “Operations and Design: Staying Ahead of Trends.” The panel discussion focused on the transformative changes in lifestyles and work patterns that have emerged in the aftermath of a global pandemic. The conversation emphasized the importance for construction and design industries to adjust and meet the demands of tenants and the communities in which we live and work.

In the Chicagoland area, the preservation of the city’s historic architecture and maintaining its cultural heritage has led to a spike in demand for adaptive reuse. This trend allows for the city to transform existing neglected buildings into new and innovative spaces. Although multifamily projects are front of mind when discussing adaptive reuse trends, ARCO’s Tenant Solutions team is witnessing a diverse range of successful adaptive reuse conversions beyond multifamily developments. This includes the conversion of a former grocery store into a rock-climbing facility or taking an old manufacturing plant and repurposing it into a trendy brewery.

Below are notable takeaways from Allen’s contributions to the panel discussion, shedding light on ARCO’s enthusiasm for adaptive reuse projects by recognizing the potential of underutilized buildings.

What property types make sense for an adaptive reuse project?

Although multifamily developments have been on the rise, we’re seeing a lot more than just this property type. Aside from the Central Business District (CBD), where you have these large, massive buildings, there’s a lot of horizontal campuses out there. Andrea Caputo, fellow panelist and Principal/Studio Leader at RATIO, and I have been working together on the west side of Chicago on a 250,000 square feet, 6.5 acres project, The Terminal, that took three existing warehouses and converted it into a mixed-use life sciences hub. We’re also finishing up a project out in St. Louis right now inside a 120,000 square foot existing warehouse and manufacturing facility that has been turned into an entertainment hub with a mixture of bars/restaurants and VR concepts. We’re building an interactive and innovative mini-golf course within. This adaptive reuse project has brought in a ton of other multifamily and other developments around it.

Fundamental changes in how people live and work, along with rapid advancements in technology and innovation, has challenged industry professionals to meet evolving expectations. What are some of the changes that you’re seeing in Chicago?

It’s extremely important to have the community involved in adaptive reuse projects, particularly in Chicago. At the end of the day, the community wants to be heard and create spaces that add value to the city. My team has had a lot of success when we involved the community in the construction process, from preconstruction all the way to project fruition. Prior to demolition, it’s important to collaborate with community members and invite them to the project site to see the current conditions, as well as take them along the projected journey of construction and what the end result will be. Throughout the course of construction, we invite the community on jobsite tour walks outside of construction hours, where we give them proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and let them fully immerse themselves into the transformation.

Prior to starting the construction process, we take the time to understand the needs of the community, find new and exciting ways to fulfill their requests, as well as hire local vendors and subcontractors. From an innovation standpoint, we found that green spaces are in high demand which ultimately aligns with the change in lifestyle and work patterns. Due to the pandemic altering this, we’re seeing a community need for additional outdoor leisure spaces within the city. From rooftop tracks to dog parks, sustainable options are what the city is asking for right now, which complements the concept of adaptive reuse.

What are some of the biggest surprises in some of the adaptive reuse projects that you’ve done that you weren’t counting on?

You never know what you’re fully walking into when going through an adaptive reuse conversion. There are unforeseen surprises that add an element of unpredictability. Prior to demolition, we thoroughly explore the space and take note of anything that may be out of the ordinary, which is common in these old buildings. During the demolition process is when we come face-to-face with the unforeseen surprises that reveals another layer of hidden history in Chicago. For instance, we found concealed mezzanines, hidden safe rooms and old boiler rooms. There’s always going to be unique building elements that will continue to surprise us and ultimately challenge us to adapt to hiccups in the construction process. Due to these hidden elements, it can cause roadblocks in financial planning but we always keep the client informed and explain the unique project aspects that will come with adaptive reuse. It’s important that the client knows to expect the unexpected, but with ARCO’s design-build approach, our clients can rest easy knowing we have it covered.

The future of adaptive reuse holds great potential and is likely to continue growing in significant ways. What are some of the aspects that could shape the future of adaptive reuse?

The future of adaptive reuse is promising, and it’s extremely important to be open-minded and consistently find solutions that fit each building’s unique history. For example, the concept of a horizontal campus has gained traction, demonstrating the flexibility to adapt to various types of products. A few years ago, I would have never imagined that we would be working on a conversion for an indoor agriculture growing operation specific to mixed greens. We took a 100,000 square foot former Target in a strip mall and creatively converted it into a fully autonomous operation. This building has been vacant in the city for over 20 years. It’s finally getting the second life it deserves. So, ultimately, the future of adaptive reuse is about thinking outside of the box, other than limiting it to certain product types. Adaptive reuse is limitless, exceeding conventional expectations.

Questions on any of ARCO/Murray’s latest adaptive reuse projects across the country? Get in touch today.

Tenant Improvements Contact Us