Once synonymous with the New York bohemian lifestyle of SoHo and TriBeCa, the loft has come into its own as a popular choice with young professionals across America. The loft provides an unconventional, hip alternative to the suburban home where most of them grew up. And multifamily developers are buying up old factories and warehouses to meet the demand.
But what is a loft, anyway? Given its popularity among young renters, apartment developers and managers are applying the term to any building once used for commercial purposes, regardless of location—as well as new construction with loft-like features. Purists, on the other hand, would define a loft as an adaptive reuse of an urban industrial space, with ceilings at least 10 feet high. At its best, a loft project resurrects long-vacant buildings in remote city spaces and helps turn former commercial districts into vital neighborhoods. To see this action, we went in search of the American Loft. The following five projects are a good sampling of the trend in action.
Sold on Lofts Loft conversions are the bread and butter of Aderhold Properties, a Georgia apartment development and management company that owns and runs nine residential loft properties in and around Atlanta. The largest of these is the enormous Fulton Cotton Mill Loft complex, with more than 500 units located just outside of the downtown area. The project, which draws on the rich history of the cotton industry, was completed in two phases of about 250 units each with each phase fully leased within a year.
Company president Tom Aderhold, who calls loft conversions “a labor of love,” says that the nature of industrial buildings can make them a challenge. Fulton Mill, for instance, features at least 80 one-of-a-kind units. But too many unique units can slow the leasing process, as potential renters try to sort through all the choices. His solution: only show each prospect a handful of units, in a variety of styles. Another challenge, of course, is that conversions tend to be more expensive than new construction. Like many loft developers, Aderhold gets some financial relief from historic tax credits offered by many states, as well as by the federal government. “It really helps level the playing field when competing with the new construction market,” he says.
In fact, the company's urban projects have proved so successful that it has spread its feelers outside the city. It recently purchased two other large industrial properties for future projects, each one an old mill located within commuting distance of the city. “Sherman did a good job in Atlanta, so there's not much left to draw on, but the South is full of cotton mills,” says Aderhold. “As the urban area moves outward, we're sure to see more adaptive reuse in the suburban market.”