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Owen Rouse Jr.: Reuse, replace, renew

The anniversary of the War of 1812 reminds us that Baltimore is not a young city.

Infrastructure is aging in place, offering more opportunities to identify properties for adaptive re-uses and to begin the recycling process from old to new, nonfunctional into highly functional.

Recycling of buildings has been a Charm City tradition that has slowed as a result of the great recession, but this practice is on the verge of making a comeback. Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods, each with its own dynamics, rates of changes and influences. What was waterfront industrial one day gives way to residential, retail or office uses in these former facilities.

This strategy makes sense for several reasons, notwithstanding there are some obsolete buildings that actually need this kind of attention:

-Smart growth: Inwardly targeted growth vs. exurban development is what the state has been trying to encourage via policy since the Parris N. Glendening administration. Recycling older buildings is a direct manifestation of this policy.

-Ready to recycle: Some properties are at the end of their useful life — as they are currently constituted. They are now ready to become something else as they move forward toward a more functional use that can attract both tenants and capital.

-Zoning as a matter of right: Drastic changes in zoning are becoming harder to justify as adjacent owners coalesce to fight proposed zoning changes that would drastically amend uses next door. Smaller scale changes under PUDs (planned unit developments) or via use variances may be more palpable.

-Familiarity: Tenants who grew used to the spiral ductwork and exposed brick of yore are now in decision making positions and are looking to occupy the familiar. Their locus may have changed, but their tastes have not.

As an older urban center, Baltimore has expanded in different directions for different reasons. Early on, growth occurred along transportation routes, as well as around the political wards with immigrant-based populations. Growth toward the employment centers continued leaving behind vestiges of the old, now awaiting redevelopment.

Today, Baltimore grows along a more organic path (think Hampden and its mills) or in Canton (along the waterfront). Coincidentally, quite a few properties in these areas lay out especially well for adaptive re-use.

Redevelopers who wish to be successful in this undertaking need patience, strong listening skills and bench strength in all the contributing disciplines of law, construction, zoning and environmental issues. They need to be sensitive to the obvious constituencies, as well as those that may not be so obvious.

Furthermore, they need to be alert to subtle changes in tenant dynamics, and discern what amenities are warranted and that they are on the right trajectory. They also need to be team players with municipal authorities, but at the same time be transparently assertive about what makes a deal work and why.

Owen Rouse Jr. is senior vice president, director of capital markets at Manekin LLC. For more information, call 410-290-1400 or email orouse@manekin.com.