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Trading spaces

Older industrial sites reborn as offices, residential lofts

Karen Bells

Courier Senior Editor

Tri-State developers and Realtors say there's some truth to the adage, "They don't make 'em like they used to."

Industrial properties, mostly in urban areas, are being given new life as offices, retail sites and loft-style apartments or condominiums. The properties, which once churned out everything from laundry equipment to prison bars, are drawing praise for their high ceilings, historic architecture and interesting building materials.

"You're not gonna go to West Chester and get an industrial or factory space with exposed brick and ductwork," said Jeff Katenkamp, co-owner of City Lofts Development LLC.

He and business partner Greg Badger are creating condos in a 100-plus-year-old building near Findlay Market that had previous lives as both an awning manufacturer and a furniture manufacturer. The 10-unit development at 1908 Dunlap St. will feature 1,500-square-foot condos priced up to $189,900. Some will have exposed joists and ductwork, and each unit will have a dedicated elevator.

Another former manufacturing facility that will soon be housing residents is the Kinsey Flats apartments on West Fourth Street downtown. In the three-building development, built in the 1890s for machinery merchant E.A. Kinsey Co., Middle Earth Developers Inc. is creating loft apartments that will rent for $625 to $995.

"We've done 15 conversions of historic buildings, but this is our first true industrial adaptive reuse," said Middle Earth development coordinator Glenn Kukla. "We'll definitely do more, because there's a great market for it."

Eighteen of Kinsey Flats' 25 units are preleased, and Kukla is marketing 10,000 square feet as retail space.

Urban areas are seeing most of the action, and Al Neyer Inc. President and CEO Dave Neyer said that's no coincidence. At one time these locations worked fine for industrial properties because they offered good access to major roadways and sufficient land for truck turnaround requirements. But as highways came in and the city grew, much of the industrial presence shifted to the suburbs and the airport area, leaving empty or underutilized buildings.

Al Neyer Inc. in recent years has turned the former David Shoe Building manufacturing facility at Third and Plum streets into office space and created the Sycamore Place at St. Xavier Park loft units in the former Krippendorf Dittman shoe factory on Sycamore Street.

It currently is handling design-build duties for the Historic Ford Factory in Walnut Hills, revitalizing a building that has sat empty for at least a decade.

"Everybody's thrilled to see this being developed," Neyer said. "It was not just underutilized; like many old industrial sites, it was an eyesore."

Built in 1915 as a prototype Model T factory for Ford Motor Co., it was most recently used as a warehouse for Sears Roebuck Co. Fisher Design will move into 33,000 square feet of the project's 120,000 square feet of office space in November.

Adaptive reuse projects bring unique challenges such as complying with aesthetic demands to take advantage of historic tax credits, bringing buildings up to current environmental and safety standards, and finding the right type of user.

"But we look at these as opportunities," said Andy Radin, vice president of real estate for Neyer Properties. "It's fun to create something like American Laundry. The architecture is so wonderful that it was worth saving."

Neyer Properties is turning the former equipment maker's Norwood site into Class A office space with 120,000 square feet in two buildings.

"There's so much natural light coming in the manufacturing building that even on a cloudy day you can read a newspaper with no lightbulbs," said David Cawdrey, principal of Cawdrey Commercial Real Estate.

He said interest has been high, and the first tenant will move into 30,000 square feet of space on Jan. 1.

Highway access is a prime selling point for the Dolwick Business Center off the Mineola Pike exit in Northern Kentucky, but that wasn't always the case. Corporex Cos. developed the building in 1983 and sold it.

"There was no Mineola Pike exit at the time, so industrial use was the only thing that made sense for that location," said Tom Banta, Corporex executive vice president.

A few years ago, Corporex bought back the building, and it recently completed a major overhaul into Class A office space. It took the facility down to the steel frame and concrete floors and rebuilt it with a second floor, a large atrium and 230,000 square feet of space.

Banta said finding tenants has been slow going, but he's confident about leasing it.

"I get more positive comments about that property than any we've ever done," he said.

Finding the right tenant who will appreciate converted industrial space was cited again and again as critical.

"Tenants drawn to these spaces are creative people who enjoy working in open spaces with lots of room," Cawdrey said. "Are you a traditionalist ... or does an adaptation make for a creative environment for you?"

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