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Key Factors for Successful Historic Renovations

the breakers
In November 2012, The Weitz Co. completed the conversion of three distinctly separate spaces into a revolutionary lounge inside The Breakers (a historic destination resort in Palm Beach, Florida). Interior walls were removed, a display kitchen was built where no kitchen previously existed and new mechanical, electrical and plumbing was installed to create HMF, which was named in honor of Henry Morrison Flagler who founded The Breakers.


Modern architecture and construction have evolved in the past 15 to 20 years to the point that buildings all across the world are becoming art forms and models of sustainability. Factors such as employee morale and productivity, energy efficiency and technology are driving design and infrastructure decisions throughout the architecture/engineering/construction industry.

mike cooper

Mike Cooper, LEED AP
Senior Project Manager, The Weitz Co.

While new building construction more often than not brings extreme intrigue, there still is an intense nostalgia for historic renovation projects. For many developers, hospitality venues and community organizations, restoring a cherished part of history and maintaining their roots are critical to their end-users and the long-term visions they have to satisfy them.

How do you know if performing a historic renovation is the right decision? Upgrading an existing building that (in most cases) was originally constructed 75-plus years ago has to be approached methodically, especially if the structure is a landmark venue, nationally registered or had been left vacant and damaged. Below are five key steps to take when modernizing and restoring the brilliance of a treasured past.

1. Focus on the goals. Before the project starts, it’s important to embrace the owner’s goals during the build and after completion; this requires an understanding of the cultural, environmental and economic benefits of a historic renovation versus starting over and creating a new building. Once the owner’s goals are established, you’ll need to create a plan to ensure you are able to safely and successfully meet them. Primary questions we ask our clients to help uncover its goals include:

• Is it important to preserve all original aspects of the building?

• Will historical funding sources be pursued and utilized?

• Is the structure on any historical registries and what needs to be maintained to protect its status?

• What “historical elements” do we work to save, rehabilitate, etc.?

2. Early engagement with project partners. Adding historic elements to the project creates additional, unique concerns that will need to be addressed early during the design phase. Bringing the construction manager or general contractor onto the job early provides more time to research and understand the project, creating a much-needed differentiator in this segment of renovation. The same is true for architecture, engineering and consulting firms that have experience protecting the integrity of a building and seeking grants, tax credits or other financial resources.

3. Align schedules with financing requirements. It’s vital for everyone involved in the many aspects of financing a historic renovation to keep completion date requirements for grants, tax credits and other financial aids at the forefront of their planning schedules. Missing those important dates could lead to a catastrophic setback for the project, depending on the size of the renovation and the financing needed. Having those conversations with stakeholders and understanding the requirements for project financing is a key meeting that needs to happen early in the design phase.

4. How much technology? Breathing new life into weathered structures is not limited to the building façade. Advancements in technology and the emergence of Generation Z in the marketplace are pushing historic renovations to seamlessly merge a connected environment. This ranges from reliable, high-speed Wi-Fi to individually controlled, in-room smart devices and everything in between to ensure personal preferences are fulfilled. How far owners are willing to go to satisfy end-users is a critical assessment to ensure expectations are met all around.

5. Budget for contingencies. A historic renovation can provide cost savings through the structure, skin, interiors and additional aspects already being in place. However, due to the elevated likelihood of unforeseen conditions, a renovation adds the risk of being less predictable. A comprehensive historic restoration utilizing original building materials and techniques can add to the cost as opposed to implementing modern building methods to obtain similar results. Therefore, it’s important to budget for the unexpected and potential cost overruns to match desired historical features.

Published in the March 2019 issue of Building Dialogue.

Edited by Building Dialogue