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Adaptive reuse sparing iconic buildings from wrecking ball

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PHOENIX – The oak-paneled walls, high-beam ceilings and four mammoth brick fireplaces in the former Beef Eaters restaurant evoke memories of steak dinners in a classic uptown dining spot.

Where black leather booths once greeted diners with starched white tablecloths, the space now features bookshelves from floor to ceiling, a book-themed bar serving coffee and beer and comfy rugs in front of the fireplaces for readers to curl up.

A new use for a property often involves tearing down what came before, but owners of Changing Hands Bookstore decided to integrate the restaurant’s distinctive, cavernous interior into a new location scheduled to open in mid-May.

“Beef Eaters was a cool, iconic building representative of Phoenix 50 years ago and can still be today,” co-owner Cindy Dach said.

According to the city, it’s one of more than 150 examples in Phoenix of what’s referred to as adaptive reuse: breathing life into old buildings rather than knocking them down. In the case of Changing Hands, the practice preserved much of what remained of a restaurant that closed in 2006 after 45 years in business.

Now the former restaurant is called the Newton building, after Jay Newton, Beef Eaters’ founder, and has floor-to-ceiling windows to make it more inviting, construction manager Matt Parker said.

It will house the bookstore, the First Draft Book Bar, a restaurant called Southern Rail and a community space available for rental. There is also 2,400 square feet office space available for lease.

Venue Projects, the Phoenix-based development group overseeing the renovation, used Beef Eaters’ decades-old dinner tables to make bookshelves, study tables and an outdoor patio. Redwood from wingback chairs is the bar top at First Draft Book Bar.

Chandeliers that Newton chose more than 50 years ago will decorate the site’s new restaurant, and leather booths were re-upholstered for the dining area.

“It’s so cool to know less of these building materials are going into the landfill,” construction manager Matt Parker said. “You never realize how much you can reuse until your try.”

The evolution of Beef Eaters into a bookstore, restaurant and community space taps into a community desire to sustain the history and integrity of buildings, Local First Arizona executive director Kimber Lanning said.

Lanning helped form a city of Phoenix program in 2008 to offer guidance to anyone trying to adaptively reuse property. She and the city help find the ideal spaces and put business owners in contact with developers who specialize in making old buildings new again.

The city also reserved $100,000 in the 2013-2014 fiscal year to offer incentives to new owners. They can earn up to $4,500 for rebuilding structures built before 2000 that are no more than 25,000 square feet.

Projects have taken off as a result, Lanning said.

“It’s grown so much because people really love funky old buildings,” Lanning said.

In the project’s first year, nine city buildings were transformed into new businesses. In 2013, there were 48.

Among these was a 53,000-square-foot uptown motorcycle garage and dealership converted to a complex of restaurants.

Projects like these aren’t easy and can cost a lot of money, but they are worth it, Lanning said. Adaptive reuse encourages community involvement and keeps people civically engaged, she added.

“People feel connected to that place more than boring buildings that look the same,” Lanning said.