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5 Drivers Of D.C. Developers’ Renewed Interest In Adaptive Reuse

Union Market in Northeast D.C.

A resurgence in adaptive reuse activity is occurring in the D.C. area, as developers realize they can command higher returns on investment and enjoy various nonmonetary benefits with these projects compared to new construction. We caught up with Bohler Engineering principal David Nemecek, to learn about this renewed interest and its drivers.

“Adaptive reuse is restoring D.C.’s future landscape as underutilized spaces are given new purpose without marginalizing their past," Nemecek said. "The practice of adaptive reuse is not new, but today we have the added benefits of inventive technologies and some of the brightest talent in the nation. There’s ample built space in the best locations of the District, and investors are looking for opportunities in areas not being used to their potential.”

According to Nemecek, there are five types of advantages to repurposing a building: social, environmental, regulatory, time-related and monetary.

A rendering of the West Heating Plant project from the south, showing the one-acre park

1. Social

The local community often appreciates when an old and beloved building can be reinvigorated in a way that honors the history of the place. Developers can tap into its charm to entice newcomers and appeal to the nostalgia of longtime residents, while delivering something the neighborhood more immediately needs.

At Union Market, the community requested ample outdoor space and a theater. Edens and Bohler Engineering helped provide both, creating a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood events space and a pop-up theater.

“A unique aspect of this project is the use of curbless roads," Nemecek said. "Curbs define the roadway, but present barriers for events, pop-ups and other programs, so we wanted to eliminate them for more flexibility."

He sees Union Market as an exemplary combination of new construction and adaptive reuse that pays tribute to the past while fulfilling stakeholders’ new needs.

2. Environmental

In the D.C. region, locals seek environmentally sensitive approaches to projects, and adaptive reuse is one way to meet this demand.

“Adaptive reuse reduces landfill waste because there is not as much refuse being generated,” Nemecek said. “Energy is being conserved that would traditionally be put into assembling, transporting and installing new materials.”

The inside of the penthouse at The Sanctuary, a condo building converted from a 120-year-old Capitol Hill church

Bohler Engineering navigates clients through regulatory barriers, evaluating the feasibility of adaptive reuse for a project.

"One of the greatest opportunities associated with adaptive reuse is finding creative ways to comply with the new stormwater management regulations,” Nemecek said. “Our team leverages innovative strategies to adhere to these governances.”

3. Regulatory

Regulatory impediments often deter adaptive reuse. Preservation boards and legislation are examples of process challenges that developers must overcome to meet project entitlement. Innovative design is a pillar in Bohler Engineering’s core value.

“We guide clients through the entitlement process and utilize, for example, creative stormwater management solutions to achieve the project’s financial objectives,” Nemecek said.

At 2501 M St. NW, developers converted underutilized office space to high-end condos. Bohler Engineering’s design utilized the existing roof system to meet stormwater management requirements. 


4 and 5. Temporal and Monetary

Time and cost are the final factors that make adaptive reuse desirable, as delivery is often quicker and less expensive than when demolishing a preexisting structure to start from scratch.

“There’s a consensus in D.C. that the region is becoming overbuilt, especially considering the viable stock of existing buildings,” Nemecek said. To take advantage of local historic buildings, community and jurisdictional support can have make a significant difference. “When Bohler Engineering worked on Union Market for Edens, the new infrastructure received tax increment financing approved by the District Council.”

Bohler Engineering was instrumental in helping the project team receive support for the recently approved TIF.

“In this resurgence of adaptive reuse, we are seeing a move away from urban industrial, and converting these projects into theaters, distilleries or even residential, like at the St. Elizabeths Hospital redevelopment or Jair Lynch Meridian Hill Park’s project, which is transforming a historic college campus,” Nemecek said.

St. Elizabeths Hospital, designated a National Historical Landmark in 1990, will be converted to multifamily residential.

With D.C.’s rich political and cultural history, adaptive reuse opportunities for creative developers and architects abound. Bohler Engineering thrives on partnering with sophisticated developers to help achieve results that positively impact local neighborhoods and achieve high ROIs.