Vertical farming might be next in San Francisco adaptive re-use trends

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June 27, 2017

By: Tom Poser, Executive Vice President, JLL

Adaptive re-use has become a key component of the commercial real estate world, especially in development-constrained cities like San Francisco where raw land is hard to find, and often prohibitively expensive. But, it takes a certain vision to see beyond the current state or role of a building to what it might become.

Photo credit: Gotham Greens, New York

Icons of adaptive reuse

There are some notable large-scale examples of buildings taken to a “higher and better use” in San Francisco. Probably the most decorated is the Ferry Building. For over one hundred years the building was the hub for ferries operating around the Bay and, while it still hosts ferries today, it’s much better known for its artisanal marketplace and restaurants, as well as second floor office space.

Other examples of adaptive reuse include Market Square (aka Twitter headquarters) and the Exploratorium, the famed children’s interactive science museum which was moved from the Palace of Fine Arts to its current location in the bulkhead of Pier 15 in 2013.

Reimagining space

But adaptive reuse doesn’t have to be undertaken on a large scale, it just has to be inspired.  Take the example of Coffee Bar Kearny, a tiny (1,000 square feet) coffee tasting workshop carved out of the entrance to Saint Mary’s Square Garage.

Adaptive reuse can also fuel segments of the market that are underserved by new development. A VC-backed start-up is utilizing an adaptive reuse strategy to convert disused commercial buildings in San Francisco to affordable housing.

Farms in San Francisco?

Adaptive reuse can also be spurred by obsolescence. Strong demand among advanced manufacturers and ecommerce companies for state-of-the-art industrial and warehouse distribution buildings, for example, has left older, more traditional industrial stock on the sideline.

Commercial urban farmers such as Gotham Greens have built greenhouses on industrial rooftops in cities like New York and Chicago. Advances in cultivation techniques such as hydroponics and aquaponics are bringing new life inside some of these buildings too. Urban farmers like Aerofarms have located vertical farms in a former steel mill, a nightclub and a paintball/lazer tag facility. Freight Farms provides vertical growing units housed in shipping containers. The containers can be stacked and housed indoors or out.

Meanwhile, with the advent of legalized marijuana in more than two dozen states including California, older industrial, and even retail, buildings are being repurposed – often at great cost to the tenants – to accommodate pot cultivation.  While it remains to be seen if this particular trend will be sustained, it’s another example of how changing social and economic forces can provide owners of older buildings with new opportunities.

About me

I represent tenants in the San Francisco and Marin office markets, helping you find office space, buy buildings, and negotiate leases. Partial client list includes Bank of America, RocketSpace, Marin General Hospital, GoPro, Globant, Regus, Kiva, Indiegogo and more. I have helped secure over a million square feet of office space for my clients in the past 3 years.

You can contact me directly by email at or via phone at +1 (415) 395-4941.



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