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Steel Tariffs Just Another Reason Houston Developers Are Looking To Adaptive Reuse Projects


Commercial real estate is feeling the impact of the steel and aluminum tariffs signed into action by President Donald Trump in March. The price hike of these goods is expected to impact several industries, with construction taking a particularly hard hit

In Houston, these expenses are changing the face of the city. Rather than opt for costly, ground-up construction, developers in Houston are getting creative to meet the demand for commercial office space by turning to adaptive reuse projects. These projects require fewer construction resources and are far more sustainable than new construction.

The case for transforming existing buildings is strong. The city’s former industrial facilities and mid-century staples like doughnut shops and gas stations offer a set of architectural resources that can be reinvented for new uses. 

“Every community has important architectural resources,” MacRostie Historic Advisors director Anna Mod said. “[Houston has] all this, too. But we’re not talking about it.”

From 2015 to 2016, an exhibit called “Uncommon Modern” ran at the Architecture Center Houston’s ArCH gallery. Curated by Mod and Delaney Harris-Finch, the exhibit explores ways the city’s historic buildings can profit both developers and residents. When developers reuse these buildings, they are preserving the city’s history using sustainable building practices and attracting tenants by maintaining Houston’s mid-century architectural charm. 


Companies in the creative, tech and media industries have expressed particular interest in leasing these adaptive reuse spaces. A former industrial facility lends itself to companies looking for buildings with open space, high ceilings and access to natural light to fuel ideas. Warehouse space evokes the image of a company with young professionals interested in nontraditional workspaces. Adaptive reuse also aligns with the ethos of these creative companies in its very nature. The concept of taking something old and modernizing it is something many of these companies can get behind. 

The tech, advertising, media and information scene in Houston is growing, and city officials are capitalizing on this demand. Mayor Sylvester Turner recently announced plans to transform Houston’s Sears in Midtown into an innovation hub. The 200K SF building will be transformed into a startup incubator. Developers will preserve the building’s Art Deco features while providing the tenant with modern amenities and features. 

While this type of community space can offer opportunity for innovation, it is most valuable to developers from a cost and sustainability perspective. 

“Adaptive use involves less waste of materials and less need for new building materials like drywall, plaster and concrete, which are highly energy and carbon intensive, even with the most sustainable production methodologies,” Green Generation Solutions CEO Brad Dockser said to ULI. “The ability to reuse windows, walls and ornamentation is critical. And it’s possible to be highly creative. I’ve seen people put an office or a conference room in what used to be a vault. Instead of spending enormous amounts of energy to get rid of the vault, repurpose it.”

The city of Houston has been thinking about these alternatives to new construction for several years, but there is a push for sustainable development now more than ever. 

This feature was produced in collaboration between Bisnow Branded Content and EBI Consulting. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.