Features Mann Report

One for the History Books

The Fairlane Hotel in Nashville, TN

How Real Estate’s Demand for the Experiential has Given Historic Properties a Second Wind

In recent years, the term “experiential” has become an oft-cited buzzword in commercial real estate. From experiential retail to restaurants and everything in between, the advent of Instagram and social media have created a newfound market of shareable moments and experiences. In light of this, historic properties are in higher demand, as these buildings contain narratives in their very walls—perfect content for a quick share on your own Facebook wall.

Social media advantages aside, adaptive reuse has a few slightly more practical, numbers-based benefits as well. After all, redesigning a historic building often requires less legwork than planning a completely new property from the ground up.

“I don’t think there’s any question that these types of projects will continue, as they provide a mix of potential return that is greater than new build,” said Michael Tall, President of Charlestowne Hotels. “These projects also typically come to market faster.”

Experts on all things adaptive reuse, Tall and the team at Charlestowne Hotels have a plethora of rags-to-riches redesign projects under their belt, with more coming down the pipeline. This expertise stems from a commitment to authenticity, and a historian’s eye for compelling narrative.

“At the onset of any project, we immerse ourselves in a building’s history—everything from who designed and commissioned it to the political and cultural climate at the time,” said Tall. “This information serves as inspiration for the new design and helps us envision what the project’s new story is.”

This unearthed history serves as yet another example of the advantages of adaptive reuse, as a story already exists for the new property in question—eliminating the need to create a new one.

For instance, at the Fairlane Hotel (which is managed by Charlestowne Hotels), the renovation team found a time capsule that contained a video of the original bank staff ceremoniously putting items into the capsule. Fascinated by such an organic piece of history, the decision was made to play the video on a loop in the new lobby.

“Our team gets really jazzed on stuff like that,” added Tall. “It’s cool to unearth some of the things that were going on at that time.”

Of course, there are a few major considerations that must be taken into account when embarking on a project that involves a preexisting historic property. The first of which is an assessment of preservation versus productivity—what aspects of the current building are worth preserving, and which are no longer necessary or in need of redesign?

The second is construction materials, a challenge in some cases, as many historic properties were built before the modern age of construction and production and require very specific materials as a result. Finally, historic properties must be revamped as per accessibility laws and guidelines. This requires retrofitting for compliance. Often this issue comes into play because older properties were not designed with cars in mind, so in many cases new entryways have to be created to allow smoother traffic flow.

If all three of these tenants are executed properly, than a historic property can go on to capture the all-important “experiential” aspect of real estate—a trend that experts don’t expect will be going anywhere anytime soon.

“The demand for these things is only going to increase,” said Tall. “And that demand is going to drive more creativity in projects in the future.”

It’s clear, then, that future real estate must differentiate itself. Not merely based on its square footage or location, but on its character, on its unique aspects, on its authenticity, and, above all, on its experience.

“At the end of the day, we are giving stories to where people are vacationing and where they work,” Tall concluded. “People want a departure from the script of everyday life, and it’s our job to do our research and excavate new stories so that they can do that.”

So perhaps it’s time for the real estate world to crack open a textbook and grab a highlighter—because it’s new ground-up developments that may soon be ancient history.

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