“Adaptive reuse can be a strong tool for both developers and communities looking to redesign cities while paying homage to their past. Chicago, in particular, is no stranger to reinventing itself, and a recent study from RentCafé put it at the top of the list of U.S. cities with the most apartment conversions.
“Specifically, the study found that, since the 1950s, nearly 2,000 old buildings have been transformed into apartment complexes in the U.S. — an all-time high. Of these, around 800 were repurposed in the last decade alone with efficiency and sustainability in mind.
“Returning old buildings to their former glory while giving them a new meaning is no easy feat. Nevertheless, with 91 conversion projects, Chicago boasts the highest number of adaptive reuse apartment buildings — 81% of which are aimed at renters on a budget.
“Steady rise in Chicago conversions creates more than 14,000 new apartments. Today, Chicago boasts Chicago boasts the most converted old buildings in the country (91) and the second-most apartments created through adaptive reuse (14,167).
“As residential repurposing steadily began to rise, Chicago’s first conversion spike occurred in the 1980s. Back then, 12 buildings transitioned into apartment complexes, including Sheridan Plaza, a former hotel that was the first high-rise built in uptown.
“Following the national trend, Chicago’s all-time high in apartment conversions occurred in the 2010s. In fact, a total of 39 old buildings were repurposed last decade — just in time to match the growing interest in unique, vintage apartments. One of these was the former Shoreland Hotel, a roaring ’20s staple that used to throw banquets for Amelia Earhart and host guests such as Elvis.
“Chicago’s most recent apartment conversion projects. Given its colorful past, Chicago has its pick of 1920s buildings to repurpose. But, it also has its share of turn-of-the-century architectural staples — like 1902’s The Bush Temple, which still displays one of the pianos it used to make, or the former Graeme Stewart Elementary School from 1905.
“81% of the repurposed Chicago buildings aimed at renters on a budget. Across the U.S., a large share of adaptive reuse projects is aimed at lower- and middle-income renters — 65%. In this area, Chicago holds its own with 68 repurposed buildings oriented toward those looking for affordable rentals.
That’s a cool 81% of Windy City residential conversions that are on the affordable side, 57% of which are accessible to low-income renters. Among them are historical gems like The Carolan — a former resort hotel built in 1923 — and Park View, one of the earliest hotel-to-apartments conversions in the city.
“Chicago’s most popular conversions: vintage hotels, office buildings & factories. Chicago school architecture is world famous and, to this day, the city has some of the most iconic early 20th-century structures that are ideal for restoring to their former glory through adaptive reuse. Most of the old buildings that have been repurposed here over the years were former hotels like The Belmont by Reside or The Seneca. In fact, since the 1950s, 46 hotels have been given a second chance — most of which were originally built in the eventful ’20s and ‘30s.
“Meanwhile, old office buildings and vintage factories are neck and neck as far as the number of conversions goes, with 11 and 10, respectively. This includes the former J.P Smith Shoe factory — which now goes by the name of River West Lofts — and the Randolph Tower, one of the most beautiful Gothic Revival structures in Chicago that was previously a mix of office and retail space.” (Rentcafe Report, 12/7/20)