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Life Sciences Bringing Old Buildings Back to Life

October 27, 2022

Adaptive reuse of old buildings is not a new concept. However, exactly how the buildings are being adaptively reused continues to grow.


Life sciences companies turn out to be an ideal occupant for building conversions. Why? They are often in urban markets where elite universities lie near older manufacturing sites. These kinds of sites, in addition to former retail and industrial spaces, have recently been made key for larger life sciences development. This is due to the expansion of the industry to smaller markets, the latest shifts in the economics of lab development, and the critical demand for lab space.

Not only can these spaces take advantage of the Federal Historic Tax Credit which provides incentives to restoring existing structures, but they also offer high ceiling heights and a single-story with dock access, which is in stark comparison to property like offices spaces. It can also be more cost-efficient to transform manufacturing sites into biomanufacturing sites for reasons like plenty of egress and transit access.

Because of this, these kinds of projects normally attract small to mid-sized startups rather than big-name biotech firms. Demand for cheaper space is a driving demand for these conversions.


This trend is especially prevalent in secondary and tertiary markets like Fort Wayne. They benefit from the lower costs associated with renovation versus ground-up construction and the faster time to market. These markets also are more likely to have an older stock of buildings; in primary markets, older buildings are common demolition targets that trigger complete redevelopment.

A prime example of a life science conversion is Fort Wayne’s Electric Works site. It was a former General Electric industrial campus that boasted one million square feet of buildings over forty acres; it was a perfect example of a historic asset that could be repurposed as a center for life sciences, helping to reduce replacement costs and bring back jobs. It combines life sciences with restaurant, retail, and innovation space.

However, there is a smaller focus on the life sciences aspect merely due to the minimal local scope of Fort Wayne’s biotech industry. With this, it is important that developers understand the regional economy and community when considering adaptive reuse in order to adjust the tenant mix. It also must be the right location; the building’s connection to the surrounding neighborhood is key as it must create density through interaction with other buildings. Smaller mall projects, for example, may not be the best idea for wider placemaking efforts.

Today, the Electric Works site is ready for its reveal. Tenants like Parkview Health Systems have already started moving in. Many view the project as an upgrade for the local economy given its investment in a science and innovation ecosystem. Even the connectivity of transit on campus makes it ideal in attracting employees who have access to restaurant and retail while at work.

The Electric Works redevelopment is one of many adaptive reuse projects across the country using life sciences as a vehicle for economic growth and as groundwork for larger mixed-use developments.

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