By Brian Johnson
2021 President
Santa Barbara Association of Realtors

Adaptive reuse is not a new concept in commercial real estate. It is the practice of taking an existing building and repurposing it for a new use. This means renovating an existing building rather than demolishing it and building something new. In the past, we have seen single property assets in urban areas utilize this approach of neighborhood renewal. There are rules that we have to abide by in order to consider something as an adaptive reuse.

The first is that you reuse all or a substantial portion of an existing structure. Tearing down a building and putting up a new one is not an adaptive reuse. Secondly, the existing structure has to have had some kind of functional or economic obsolescence. We see this with structures such as abandoned mills, factories, malls and other structures that have outlived their usefulness. Finally, there has to be a change of use. You cannot just put like for like in a renovated structure. We see examples of this with residential housing going into old industrial lofts or retail and experiential uses going into old manufacturing areas.

Santa Barbara has experienced adaptive reuse over the years. The Funk Zone is probably the best example of adaptive reuse. An entire neighborhood has sprung up out of older industrial properties. A series of properties and buildings were repurposed for wineries, breweries, restaurants, artist enclaves and soft goods retailers. This kind of adaptive reuse is the future. This 2.0 version of adaptive reuse will seek to transform entire neighborhoods and not just single buildings or assets. It is a re-examination of our communities to reposition them for change. It is this kind of scenario that we could also see play out for an increased amount of housing in our downtown or core areas.

For property owners and developers willing to take the risk and with support from local governments who see the benefit of an evolving landscape versus the continued decline of an area there will be possibilities for new ideas and solutions. We are in the midst of a sea change in our concept of cities. With new technologies pushing driverless vehicles, the increased need for affordable housing in our urban areas and the still developing changes in our lives from a pandemic, now is the perfect time to explore the concepts of adaptive reuse throughout our communities.

Brian Johnson is a California licensed real estate agent and the Managing Director of Radius Commercial Real Estate. Brian handles all types of commercial real estate transactions but has a special focus on multifamily investments. He can be reached at 805-879-9631 or


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