Hotel Row Adaptive Re-use

Atlanta project showcases the practical, historical and aesthetic value of adaptive reuse 

Atlanta project showcases the practical, historical and aesthetic value of adaptive reuse 

Location
Atlanta, GA
Year Completed
2022
Sector
Buildings
Value
less than $10M
Market Type
Renovation/Adaptive Re-use

Breathing New Life into Historic Hotel Row

Adaptive reuse projects often encompass complex design and construction elements, but through early collaboration and enhanced communication between project partners, old buildings can be resurrected to new life, their histories and unique characters preserved for the communities that cherish them. When buildings date back a century or more, contractors contend with even greater challenges and risks from unknown building and material conditions to critical safety code updates—all while preserving some of the most cherished and significant elements of the structure.

On NEWPORT RE’s (Newport) Hotel Row, a complex encompassing three nineteenth-century brick buildings in downtown Atlanta’s historic hotel district, Balfour Beatty successfully tackled these complexities and more, delivering an iconic refresh that has engendered immense community pride. By performing early scope analysis and developing a precise schedule and logistics plan, our team delivered a landmark complex and tribute to Atlanta’s rich history.

Hotel Row comprises three centenarian structures, the Gordon, the Scoville and the Sylvan, all originally built between in the early twentieth century to anchor the business district and support the nearby Atlanta Terminal Station. In the half century since, the buildings served various mixed-use purposes that have cemented their nostalgic and cultural value that Balfour Beatty successfully preserved. 

Early, Accurate Tech-enabled Analysis

Much of the complexity in an adaptive reuse project stems from the inherent nature of dealing with decades- or even centuries-old buildings. 

On Hotel Row, early planning, enabled by technologies including drone imaging and laser scanning, was key to discovering a bevy of potential issues like rooftop water damage, aesthetic damage from years of wear and even a fire 100 years ago and more, made possible by technologies including drone imaging, laser scanning and more.

“We’re dealing with 100-year-old buildings, so part of our job is doing everything possible to limit the client’s exposure and minimize or eliminate as many unexpected costs as possible,” says Project Manager Luis de la Cruz. “Effectively limiting client exposures requires early contractor involvement and is important to facilitate a thorough and accurate analysis of the buildings’ current conditions and required scope of work.”

With that initial analysis, Balfour Beatty developed precise engineering solutions and identified the trade partners best suited to mitigate potential risks, successfully reducing downstream costs and building contingencies for any unanticipated construction needs.

For example, the original Hotel Row project analysis revealed the need to install new insulation and roofing overlay material on all three buildings. Advanced drone imaging of the roofs subsequently revealed several locations where water was pooling, indicating a more extensive problem. 

As the team began roofing work, they discovered some sections of deeper wood rot that required more resection and replacement than anticipated. Thanks to the drone analysis, however, they had already incorporated this work within the project budget and schedule.

To develop timely solutions and ensure minimal impact to the schedule when unexpected challenges arose, the team utilized Touchplan, a digital planning tool that gives every project stakeholder real-time access to the plan on any smartphone or tablet. The planning tool was especially beneficial when navigating weather delays, workforce shortages and supply chain issues.

Thoughtful Preservation

Architecture, like fashion, can be a fleeting artistic medium, but adaptive reuse enables the preservation of a building’s unique style and history. On Hotel Row, the team replaced original wood floors with new hardwood flooring that preserved the original styles and colors as closely as possible. Like the rooftops, these elements required careful replacement of substrate material under the wood, again facilitated by an allowance in the initial planning.

Perhaps the most distinctive aspects of the three hotels’ original interiors are the hardwood columns and pressed tin ceiling tiles in common spaces, the former lending a rustic and comfortable aura to the interior and the latter serving as a distinctive hallmark of the buildings’ pre-war origins. Both features in the Sylvan were unfortunately harmed in a 1930s fire, so the project team sanded and refinished the columns and cleaned and straightened the ceiling tiles.

“Initially, we had anticipated the need to completely replace many of the columns,” says Luis. “Instead, we were able to preserve the original wood with its century of history and character literally charred into its grain, saving time and money in the process. The result is a striking step into the Georgian capitol’s history.”

Some features the team preserved were much newer but equally vital to the buildings’ histories such as a floor-to-ceiling mural of the Grammy-winning Atlantan hip hop duo OutKast in the Gordon’s basement wall. The basement once housed a speakeasy-style bar where OutKast regularly performed during their early-90s rise to fame. When occupied, the basement will once again house a bar tenant in a space that pays homage to Atlanta’s cultural tapestry.

Some additions are true modernizations to strengthen the buildings’ new purpose, like the addition of lightwells between the Sylvan East and Sylvan West at every level. The enclosed structure provides walkability between the buildings without needing to access the street, adding to Hotel Row’s value as a mixed-use community hub all while matching the hotels’ architectural style as much as possible.

Believe the Adaptive Reuse Mission

The lingering question surrounding any adaptive reuse project is, simply, “Why?” Why preserve these old structures, investing funds into renovation, modernization and rehabilitation that could otherwise be spent constructing a new building?

The question is perhaps a misconception itself, as the goal of adaptive reuse is still to meet the client’s needs for a space while also preserving a piece of history. Reuse can also reduce construction waste and achieve greater sustainability goals in the process.

“We really believed in what we were doing on Hotel Row,” Luis says. “Some buildings, maybe many buildings, don’t need to be demolished before they can be transformed into something new.”

Clients like Newport often choose to preserve historic buildings as opposed to new, ground-up construction projects to reinvigorate community interest, thereby drawing new tenants and customers. On Hotel Row and other exciting adaptive reuse projects like the forthcoming 222 Mitchell Street project located on the same city block, Balfour Beatty is playing an integral role in the revitalization of Atlanta’s historic South Downtown, a powerful testament that newer isn’t always better, and even as we progress, some parts of our history are worth preserving.