April 12, 2017 / By Donna Reist, Corporate Marketing

Adaptive Reuse Turns Vacant Landmark into Affordable Housing


It started in the 1960s. Difficulties in securing new building permits, concerns about the environment and a burgeoning preservation movement led to growing interest in reimagining historic buildings for entirely new purposes. And so, adaptive reuse in the United States began. Considered the first successful adaptive reuse project, the former Ghirardelli chocolate factory in San Francisco was converted into a now-famous specialty retail and dining complex in 1964. Of course, not all adaptive reuse endeavors garner as much attention or fame of Ghirardelli Square, but breathing new life into a historic building can have a powerful impact on local communities. That’s just what’s happening with the Residences at Eagles Point in the City of Eaton, Ohio.

Turning a Local Landmark into Affordable Housing

In 2014 the H.I.T. Foundation saw an opportunity to convert the former Eaton High School into the “safe, affordable housing” that stands at the heart of the Eaton-based nonprofit’s mission. The 1920s-era school building had been largely vacant following the 2012-2013 school year when students transitioned to a new high school. The school district was still using a building on the property for the Superintendent’s office. In addition, the school still housed two tenants, the school district’s Treasurer’s offices and —Sinclair Community College—in part of the space.

Rather than see the historic building fall into disrepair, the H.I.T. Foundation reached out secure funding. A referral from Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing led them to Miller-Valentine Group. Having embarked on adaptive reuse ventures in the past, Miller-Valentine had the expertise—in both development and construction—to help the H.I.T. Foundation achieve its goal.

Working in partnership with the H.I.T. Foundation and St. Mary Development Corporation, Miller-Valentine developer Denise Blake helped get the ball rolling, securing funding and tax credits from several sources including Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives which are managed by the National Park Service. Once the H.I.T. Foundation purchased the school, as well as some neighboring properties that were considered eyesores, work could begin.

The Adaptive Reuse Journey—From Empty to Empowering

Adaptive reuse demands a disciplined approach. For the developer, there are myriad hoops to jump through. You must constantly balance the guidelines for housing and historic preservation credits with your budget. “With four partners, three owners and numerous other stakeholders, we knew the process of turning a disused high school into apartments would be a complex undertaking,” says Denise Blake. In the case of the Residences at Eagles Point, the construction team also had the added pressure of a tenant that remained in the space throughout the construction. Blake notes, “It definitely required some creative problem solving to ensure that noise or the lack of heat didn’t disrupt Sinclair Community College.” Fortunately, staying mindful of the occupants—along with ceiling space heaters for the leased space—enabled construction to move ahead while the college’s Workforce Training Lab continued to prepare students for careers in manufacturing.

With more than half the space under lease and residents scheduled to begin moving in, the Residences at Eagles Point showcases just how adaptive reuse can turn an empty building into a community asset. In addition to offering a mix of 40 one-, two- or three-bedroom affordable housing units, the Eagles Point development also features two market-rate apartments. The building also houses a beautifully restored auditorium that will double as a theater, a fully-equipped community room featuring the original hardwood floors of the old gymnasium, a fitness center and The Bistro at Eagles Point, a pay-it-forward concept restaurant. Residents enjoy the convenience of living within walking distance of downtown Eaton. In addition, Sinclair Community College continues to lease space for its Workforce Training Lab with plans to offer three scholarships to residents.

Asked what her favorite features of the completed affordable housing community, Denise Blake says, “When you see how we were able to preserve the historic feel of the building while creating beautiful, affordable housing, it’s inspiring. Chalkboards and lockers are incorporated into spaces, and every unit is unique. We will certainly do more adaptive reuse in the future.”

Want to explore adaptive reuse options in your own community? Talk to Denise Blake at Miller-Valentine Group.

Additional Coverage:

Dayton Business Journal