Putting the ‘lift’ in face lift: Developers give old buildings new life by making them taller

This article originally appeared on NJBIZ.com and can be read here

Source: NJBIZ.com

Last summer, Woodmont Industrial Partners acquired a Class C, 103,000-square-foot building at 77 Moonachie Ave. in Moonachie.

Since it was less than half a mile from Route 17 and right in the middle of one of the hottest industrial areas in the state, the developer said it had plenty of potential tenants, some of which were willing to move in right away.

But Woodmont had other plans.

In fact, Anthony Amadeo, its vice president of asset management and corporate real estate, said the company is going to do something many industrial developers throughout the submarkets have considered, but few have actually done.

It’s going to raise the roof.

Amadeo said it only makes sense for the building. And, by doing so, it will help Woodmont attract tenants willing to pay a higher price.

“The original building, which is the front part, is 12-foot clear,” Amadeo said. “The middle portion, which was expanded sometime in the ’80s, is just under 18-foot clear. That portion has a mezzanine space of 14,000 square feet that is above the 18-foot clear that basically goes up to 34-foot clear. And we have a back portion that was expanded in 2007, and that’s about 26-foot clear.”

It didn’t take Woodmont long to formulate a plan.

“When we looked at it … the 26-foot clear and the 18-foot clear with the mezzanine is in pretty good shape,” Amadeo said. “It was pretty leasable in our mind. So, we said, how can we better the original and front office part, and one of the things was raising it to 24- or 32-foot clear.”

The firm decided to pursue 28-foot clear for the front section, or roughly 49,000 square feet, in the end.

Woodmont also plans to add new dock doors, a new sprinkler system and a glass façade facing Moonachie Avenue for a showroom concept.

But, first things first. It needs to raise the roof.

Giving Old Buildings New Life By Increasing Clear Height

Raising the roof is becoming more common.

At least, that’s the opinion of Marty Shiff, CEO and president of Ontario-based roof lifting firm Rooflifters, which does a lot of work in the region.

Shiff said raising a roof comes down to economics and history.

“These days, with the way that cities and municipalities are treating new developments, the roof lifting process is becoming a more economical and quicker solution,” he said. “Because, for the most part, they fall in the renovation category, as opposed to putting up a brand-new building and having to deal with site charts and all that.

“Over time, the real estate has become so expensive that is not feasible to purchase a new building, knock it down and rebuild it. The cost of raising a roof versus building something new is anywhere from a quarter to half the cost.”

Needing to raise a roof also has become an alternative for developers simply due to the time when these buildings were built, according to Shiff.

“A lot of old buildings that are on key arterial roads, rail, etc., were all built for manufacturing back in the ’50s, ’60s and ’80s,” he said. “And they’re only built at 14-, 16-, 18 feet high because that’s all you needed in terms of clear span.

“What’s happened now is, unfortunately, a lot of manufacturing has been pushed out, but these buildings are still in some very key locations. So, the demand for them to become more distribution center, to be able for them to store things, has increased.”

And this change in demand for higher roofs is not simply in the industrial market.

Shiff’s firm recently completed raising the roof of a Home Depot in Lawrenceville and at an industrial property, an old toothpaste factory, in Clifton.

And Shiff is hopeful that more projects will become available in New Jersey.

It’s easy to see how roof raising will become a bigger trend.

For Woodmont, it was the perfect solution for an imperfect building in a perfect spot.

“We were attracted to the location, the proximity to New York City and the direct access to some of the major highways like U.S. Route 17 that runs into U.S. Route 3,” Amadeo said. “It’s in the Meadowlands submarket, which has been one of the hottest markets. Rents are at record levels and our demand has been pretty good, too.”

Shiff sees the supply-and-demand factor, too.

“There’s a big demand for higher heights, whether it’s retail, commercial, industrial, recreational,” he said. “A lot of the new retailers, say, an old Kmart, would be happy with a 14-foot height building. Now, a new retailer, they all want 22 or 24. It’s just changing demand in consumer wants.”

Amadeo said Woodmont is eager to get started on its project.

“We were in front of the Meadowlands Commission in early May and they have up to eight weeks to submit their approvals to the board of supervisors,” he said. “Their board meets every month, and they give us a stamp of approval.

“We anticipate that to be somewhere at the end of June.”

Shiff said he feels more jobs are coming, especially in New Jersey, in order to meet the demand of the ever-growing e-commerce sector.

“As the price and demand of urban real estate keeps increasing, the demand for that higher cubic footage goes up,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to go up and to go out. A lot of these buildings are landlocked, so they can’t do anything except go up. Traffic is getting worse, so I would consider it to continue to grow for a long time.”

Rooflifters began in the roof raising business in the 1980s.

For CEO and President Marty Shiff, the idea came as demand for space tightened in key markets. The firm began raising roofs using lift slab technology — i.e., traditional cranes — before it began using its patented “CribPost” system, where hydraulic post-shores are adjusted to the columns.

“These get set up beside existing building columns, transferring the weight of the building onto our CribPost system and then, hydraulically, we will lift,” Shiff said. “It allows us to raise the existing columns, free the walls and hydraulically lift the structure at once.”