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Partnership for Building Reuse: Chicago 

05-23-2016 10:16

Chicago’s older buildings are known the world over as incredible architectural assets. The city is experiencing growth and investment that is bringing population, employment, and vitality back to the city. Townhomes are being rehabilitated and new apartment blocks are sprouting up near transit stops. Commercial corridors are bustling with new restaurants, bars, and business. New employers are moving into repurposed older buildings. But many vacant and underutilized spaces still exist in the city’s diverse, distinctive neighborhoods.

Building on Chicago’s Strengths: The Partnership for Building Reuse examines the value that older buildings lend to Chicago's neighborhoods as well as how the city can overcome barriers to building reuse and unlock development potential.

Through a series of meetings, interviews, and workshops organized by the ULI Chicago District Council, the Partnership engaged more than 80 community development practitioners, land use professionals, historic preservation advocates, green building leaders, and city staff. These stakeholders have identified barriers to building reuse, opportunities to increase reuse-based development, and recommendations for how to increase building reuse and revitalization in Chicago.

Barriers to Reuse

  • Weak market conditions in some areas, making reuse economically unfeasible;
  • Zoning rules that unnecessarily limit uses in certain zone districts;
  • Parking requirements;
  • Limited financial incentives, especially for small projects;
  • Difficulty in securing financing, especially in weak market areas;
  • Appraisals that are out-of-sync with market realities;
  • Lack of inclusive, coordinated neighborhood planning; and
  • Complexity and cost of meeting building and energy codes.


With the list of barriers to building reuse in mind, the stakeholders reconvened to develop strategies to overcome these obstacles. Key recommendations for new policies and programs include:

  1. Adopt adaptive reuse policies within the Chicago Zoning Code.
  2. Reduce parking requirements for building reuse projects.
  3. Apply Chicago Building Code in a more flexible manner for older buildings.
  4. Support community development organizations, non-profit developers, and small-scale developers.
  5. Strengthen the use of financial incentives that support building reuse and explore the implementation of new financial tools.


To advance the Recommendations from the Partnership for Building Reuse, the Advisory Committee identified three implementation strategies:

  1. Create a target area (or areas) in which to pilot new zoning, code, and financing approaches to encourage building reuse. If successful, consider expanding to other areas or to the entire city.
  2. For recommendations that need further assessment, form a working group or task force to gather more information and develop strategy for launching additional policies or initiatives.
  3. To ensure that new approaches are achieving desired outcomes, establish a regular review process for key stakeholders, discuss policy refinements, and brainstorm new solutions.

A collaboration between the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Urban Land Institute, the Partnership for Building Reuse fosters market-driven reuse of vacant and underused buildings in cities across the country. Chicago is one of five cities participating in this initiative.

Read the executive summary or download the press release. The full report will be available shortly.


Urban Land Institute

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Full Report: Building on Chicago's Strengths   1.58 MB   1 version
Uploaded - 06-17-2016
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Executive Summary: Building on Chicago's Strengths   703 KB   1 version
Uploaded - 06-16-2016
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Press Release: Building on Chicago's Strengths   167 KB   1 version
Uploaded - 05-23-2016