Creative Adaptive Building Reuse: Savings with a Second Chance

As a result of the economy, limited land availability at desirable locations, and new construction’s lengthy permitting requirements, the trend of adaptive reuse is becoming an important option in construction and design for the gaming industry.

Converting an older, vacant building for a different use is not a new or novel concept, but it continues to gain momentum because building new from the ground up doesn’t always make financial sense. Adaptive reuse can also save significant time in getting a gaming facility up and running and, most importantly, generating income for its management team and shareholders.

Location is the key to business success. Available property can be hard to find in desirable locations with the required space for parking and other amenities needed to appeal to the target demographic. Rather than purchase a particular site for its location and tear down the existing structure, reuse is a viable option to consider.

The adaptive reuse of existing commercial structures offers the potential for saving time and money. As the structure already exists, reconstruction usually allows for shorter permitting times—a building is already in place and the sitework has already been completed. There are generally two types of permitting associated with new construction: building (new structures) permitting and civil (land) permitting, which covers the development and surrounding grounds. Permitting can be a complicated and slow process, and both types typically benefit in a reuse situation.

With an existing building footprint, there is also the potential for project completion in a shorter time frame—and time is money. Gaming revenue of a new facility can be significantly impacted by build time. Each day without revenue is potentially damaging to the bottom line. Adaptive reuse is one way to overcome this challenge.

Jacksonville Greyhound Racing is currently renovating a former big-box store site into a poker room in Jacksonville, Fla. The site offers a prime central location with easy access to major roadways and provides an abundant parking lot. Although the building on the site is 145,000 square feet, only approximately 67,000 square feet of the facility is currently being renovated for the project, as it is larger than the owner’s current needs. However, the extra space leaves the door open for future expansion or could be leased out to the right tenant, which is another added benefit of adaptive reuse. In general, if a company is building from the ground up, today’s economy typically dictates that it constructs only what is needed for the project. In this case, Jacksonville Greyhound Racing is already poised for future expansion if it decides to do so.

Finally, adaptive reuse is a quicker way to get a project up and running. If owners decide on new construction instead of adaptive reuse, it would take twice the amount of time to design and then build the complete project.

Adaptive reuse also complements smart growth and sustainability. Many green building projects are being featured as redevelopments. Reuse is one way to help lessen the impact on the environment. No new roads or infrastructure are required for an adaptive reused facility.

The Jacksonville poker room has 70 tables, including a raised, high rollers area, a private VIP room, and includes a simulcast room.
The Jacksonville poker room has 70 tables, including a raised, high rollers area, a private VIP room, and includes a simulcast room.
Lessons Learned
It is important to be aware of the concerns that could arise from adapting a structure for a new use. A change in the building’s use may result in the need to bring all or part of the structure up to current code requirements. Modifications in the electrical system, plumbing or landscaping could result in increased costs. Careful analysis is essential when evaluating a potential adaptive reuse project. Also keep in mind that a certain amount of the existing structure must remain in place for the project to be defined as adaptive reuse. It is important to look at the big picture and entire scope of the project and not make any decisions on a permitting issue alone. However, it may make sense to retain enough of the structure to avoid the need for additional permitting. Careful review can help avoid potential challenges and project delays.

Bringing in the local building inspector to confirm code issues is highly recommended. You want to determine all the anticipated cost of the project before work begins. Usually older structures that have been vacant or not well maintained will require additional work, resulting in higher costs to bring them up to current standards. If extensive improvements are required, the project could result in higher construction cost and a longer permitting process, similar to new construction.

It is also vital to understand the history and current attitudes surrounding the site, and to be aware of any negative issues that could arise. Reach out and seek feedback from municipal leaders and neighboring businesses.

Adaptive reuse can also be used to transform gaming facilities into other structures. Jacksonville Greyhound Racing donated another now-closed kennel club to an education organization, which has transformed the formerly vacant facility into a campus for the Jacksonville – KIPP School. The national public charter school targets students in underserved communities. The renovations on the four-story building changed the former clubhouse, covering approximately 170,000 square feet into classrooms, administrative offices and a cafeteria. Changing the sloping grandstands into level classrooms and making the snack bar a full-service cafeteria were among challenges for the design team, but adaptive reuse did save on the overall construction expense. The end result is a positive contribution to the community and goodwill for the facility’s management team.

The adaptive reuse of historically significant buildings can present unique challenges but often offers tremendous rewards, both in goodwill to the community and in future marketing for the facility. Adaptive reuse also can bring new life to other older structures and community landmarks. Consider the Motor City Casino in Detroit where a once-abandoned Wonder Bread factory now houses a sleek, bustling casino. A unique and unusual location can offer added benefits.­

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