What is Adaptive Reuse?

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Over the past few years, there have been a few articles on adaptive reuse projects throughout the Midwest. But what is “adaptive reuse”?

According to Wikipedia, “adaptive reuse refers to the process of reusing an existing building for a purpose other than which it was originally built or designed for. It is also known as recycling and conversion.” The urban planning website Planetizen describes it well in this short video:

As an urban planning website, Planetizen’s video concentrates on large-scale urban projects in its examples. They’re all great projects and terrific cases of where adaptive reuse has not only transformed a building (or rail line), but entire city neighborhoods.

Get Your Fill with Cawker City’s Examples

However, adaptive reuse is not just for big cities. We are witnessing more and more rural towns that have shown support for an adaptive reuse project. In 2020 we introduced you to a couple in Kansas that rebuilt a 1930’s era gas station into a rustic hotel. The project was enough of a success that the couple has continued to reinvent spaces in other buildings along the main drag in Cawker City.

Old Station Inn

Old Station Inn – Courtesy Bill and Pam Brummer

Double Vision in Sedalia

Then there’s the story of Sedalia, Missouri. This busy community of 21,000 had two railroad depots and was an important railroad town in its heyday. But as railroad activity waned, so did the maintenance of the depots. Eventually, not just one, but both structures saw significant renovations and changes to their purpose.

The grand architecture of the Katy Depot was retained, but the building was repurposed. It is now a museum, offices for the Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitors Bureau, as well as a trailhead on Katy Trail.

The Sedalia Depot took another path as it is still being used by Amtrak as a depot for the Missouri River Runner line. But the art deco structure is now a multi-modal facility. OATS Transit, the regional bus service is housed in the facility alongside Amtrak’s depot. The renovated site also serves as a northern gateway into Sedalia’s downtown.

Katy Depot

Katy Depot, https://www.katydepotsedalia.com/

Keys to Success

There are a few keys to a successful adaptive reuse project (other than funding of course).

Fill a Need

Cawker City Kansas sits along the northwestern edge of Waconda Lake. Waconda Lake provides nearly 20 square miles of recreational opportunities. But there is little in the way of overnight lodging facilities in the area. Though small in size, the Old Station Inn certainly fills a need for the area.

Know your Limits

There was no feasible way that the Old Station Inn could’ve housed additional sleeping units than the one it currently houses. That is, without adding on to the structure. But to do that would take away from the look of the original building.

That’s an example of an obvious limitation. However, older buildings have a number of limitations, especially when tasked with a use it wasn’t originally designed for. Some renovations may be physically impossible to achieve a design that fits the new use. Other renovations may not be fiscally practical. You need to know what you’re getting into before you jump head-first.

Don’t Mess Up a Good Thing

The historic charm is often what originally draws you to a building. The Katy Depot is a prominent feature along East 3rd Street in Sedalia. Restored to its previous beauty, the structure has become a focal point of imagery in marketing materials. The Depot is the first thing you see when you visit the Visit Sedalia Missouri website.

You don’t want to destroy that historic character. Some buildings you CAN’T destroy it due to historic designations. But others haven’t been designated as such. This gives you a little latitude in what you can do with the structure, but don’t take it too far and mess up a good thing.


If done right, an adaptive reuse project can be a profitable venture for those involved. But if done right, it can also become a visual centerpiece for your community, drawing others in.