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Partnership for Building Reuse: Philadelphia 

03-11-2016 15:42

Retrofitting Philadelphia: What can be done to extend the benefits of revitalization to more neighborhoods and citizens of Philadelphia? 

The latest in the Partnership for Building Reuse research series, Retrofitting Philadelphia explores the challenges and opportunities related to building reuse in a place with a large stock of older, smaller buildings. Led locally by the ULI Philadelphia District Council, the Partnership has engaged more than 40 land use professionals, historic preservation advocates, community development practitioners, green building leaders, and city staff. These stakeholders have identified opportunities and developed recommendations for how to increase reuse and revitalization in Philadelphia. As part of this effort, the National Trust’s Preservation Green Lab conducted research into the connections between the vitality of Philadelphia neighborhoods and the character of the city’s existing building stock. The Green Lab’s findings show that Philadelphia’s older, smaller buildings contribute in key ways to the vitality of the city.

Working with local practitioners, the Green Lab also developed an analytical tool to identify areas of the city that have not yet benefitted from reuse and revitalization, but have high potential for near-term success.


To encourage building reuse in these areas and other neighborhoods citywide, the Partnership identified obstacles that make building reuse challenging — including market, financial, technical, and regulatory barriers. These include:

  • High construction costs, including high labor costs
  • Weak market conditions and low rents in many areas
  • Difficulty in acquiring long-abandoned structures
  • Lack of sufficient incentives for affordable housing and smaller commercial projects
  • Complexity and cost of meeting zoning, building, and energy codes, especially for smaller projects


With these and other barriers in mind, the Partnership recommends three key strategies to optimize building reuse in Philadelphia over the next one to three years:

  1. Add building reuse to the 2015 Philadelphia political agenda. Establish a coalition of organizations to advance building reuse as an important citywide issue and educate candidates about key policies,
    including: an extension of the property tax abatement in challenged neighborhoods; increased city staffing for the Department of Licenses & Inspections, Planning Commission, and Historical Commission; funding for a citywide historic resources survey.
  2. Extend the benefits of building reuse and community revitalization to more areas of the city. Foster market-driven investment in neighborhoods positioned for near-term success. Direct technical assistance to selected areas of opportunity to increase use of the tax abatement incentive for rehabilitation. Create adaptive use innovation zones to test creative approaches to common zoning, building code, and energy code issues in these areas and adopt successful approaches into citywide policies.
  3. Expand historic preservation tools and incentives for building reuse. Launch a citywide historic resources survey to identify additional areas that could benefit from local, state, and national historic preservation programs. Increase the number of National Register-listed districts to facilitate greater use of federal rehabilitation tax incentives. Support creation of a new citywide revolving fund to assist key reuse projects.

Study Partners

Urban Land Institute

With Support From

The Jessie Ball duPont Fund

#Sustainability #RealEstate #ULI #PreservationGreenLab #development #PartnershipforBuildingReuse

pdf file
PBR: Philadelphia Executive Summary   108 KB   1 version
Uploaded - 03-11-2016
pdf file
PBR: Philadelphia Full Report   1.27 MB   1 version
Uploaded - 03-11-2016