Muhlenberg Greene architects breathe new life into old buildings

Former factory buildings converted into a residence for the elderly. A former carriage shed transformed into a space for meetings, training and conviviality. A historic hotel transformed into modern apartments and commercial space. What was once a chandelier factory has been transformed into a hip distillery and tasting room.

These are examples of adaptive reuse, and members of Muhlenberg Greene Architects predict there will be more and more of them in Reading town center in the years to come.

“We are ripe for an increase in adaptive reuse,” said Scott Graham, president and director of the Wyomissing-based company. “We are seeing renewed interest in the city center and much more potential for development.

Adaptive reuse is simply the process of reallocating existing space for new use, explained James Sarro, director. The rehabilitated building does not have to be old or historic – although many rehabilitated buildings are.

Muhlenberg Greene’s conversion of a former Giant Food store into a federally qualified community health center in northeast Reading was an adaptive reuse project, as was the company’s work to repurpose the first and second floors of a former factory at 503 Penn St. for use as Berks County’s First Craft Distillery, the Reading Distilling Guild.

Muhlenberg Greene won the 2021 Greater Reading Chamber Alliance Restaurant/Bar Category Award for the Distilling Guild project.

Architects Muhlenberg Greene helped transform 503 Penn St. into Berks County’s first craft distillery, the Reading Distilling Guild. (PHOTO SUBMITTED)

Current in town

Adaptive reuse is common in cities where there is no land available for new construction.

“There’s not a lot of open land in an urban area and that makes adaptive reuse very appealing,” Sarro said.

Reading town centre, where many buildings are currently unused or underused, has great potential for adaptive reuse, and there is interest in repurposing these spaces for housing, aged care, retail space retail, restaurants and other uses.

“People look at these places and ask what can be done with them,” said Robert B. Conklin, vice president and director of Muhlenberg Greene.

Interest in downtown has increased dramatically with the opening last year of Alvernia University’s Reading CollegeTowne campus, located at 401 Penn St. in a building that previously served as an office and housed the school I- LEAD Charter. The facility is a mix of educational and community spaces, including BCTV’s home.

With CollegeTowne at one end of Penn Street and the Santander Arena and DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Reading at the other, the in-between area is rife with new development.

“Everybody wants to get into that middle section before it really pops up and prices go up,” Conklin said.

Work together

Various agencies are working together to figure out how to meet demand for housing, commercial and other uses, Graham said, and there is growing interest from developers looking for properties.

“It’s going to snowball,” Graham predicted. “Once there are several projects in place, you will see more coming into place.”

The first and second floors of a former factory at 503 Penn St. are used by the Reading Distilling Guild. (PHOTO SUBMITTED)

Developers are encouraged by a city administration that is more open to working with them than some previous administrations, and various agencies are working well together to determine needs and how best to move forward, Graham said.

“Reading is becoming more business and developer friendly under its new administration,” he said.

City living attracts both young professionals and baby boomers looking to downsize. And industrial growth outside the city, particularly in Muhlenberg Township and further north along Highway 222, will create housing needs for employees and their families, Graham said.

Conklin, a member of the Reading Planning Commission, said the city was interested in repurposing the buildings into residential spaces on the upper floors with commercial spaces below. This model is a model for a walkable city, he explained, because residents don’t need cars for shopping, dining and other activities.

“That translates into a walkable city, which also translates into a greener city,” Conklin said. “It’s very appealing to many, especially younger people.”

Challenges

Although adaptive reuse is sustainable and a plausible solution to the development of Reading, it is not without challenges. Many older buildings in Reading are no longer up to code and require extensive renovation to ensure legality and usability. And the logistics of downtown construction are complicated, as it requires closing streets to deliver materials and other challenges.

The building at 503 Penn St. includes the Reading Distilling Guild with a tasting room located on the lower level, with upper floors designed as modern, professional offices with skyline views, for single or multiple tenants. (PHOTO SUBMITTED)

Still, repurposing old buildings for new uses is attractive and a very likely scenario for Reading, according to managers at Muhlenberg Greene.

“The pieces are definitely coming together for Reading, and we’re excited to see what comes of it,” Sarro said.

Graham believes development along Penn Street will spur expansion along adjacent streets, and there is potential for development in the Center Park area as well.

When asked to predict how development will change the city over the next decade, Conklin answered.

“It’s definitely going to be something. It’s going to be grand.

To read and view photos of select adaptive reuse projects by Muhlenberg Greene Architects, visit the company’s website at mg-architects.com.

Muhlenberg Greene Architects Ltd.

Location: 955 Berkshire Blvd., Suite 101, Wyomissing.

Phone: 610-376-4927

Email: [email protected]

Website: mg-architects.com

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