A fourth-generation Arizonan, Walter Crutchfield has seen the state undergo a series of changes over the years as it grew into its own.
Now, he plays a big part in preserving Phoenix history for the next generations through development projects.
Crutchfield is a partner and co-founder of Phoenix-based Vintage Partners, which has been responsible for several adaptive-reuse projects across the region, repurposing existing mid-century buildings and turning them into something the community can get behind. While Vintage doesn’t currently have any adaptive-reuse projects in the works, two of its notable projects include Uptown Plaza and Rise Uptown hotel in central Phoenix, the latter of which opened its doors in June.
“It has so much history, and the great thing with adaptive reuse is it brings back an audience, who has history,” he said. “Great development is, I think, when the community that you are in embraces loves and owns your project. And when the 27-yearold with a neck tattoo and the 65-year-old both think it’s great, and are both okay that the other one’s there.”
Crutchfield is passionate about historic preservation in the city he’s called home since 1966 and has seen many buildings torn down over the years, largely by developers looking to find a cheap way to work. Many of Vintage’s adaptive-reuse projects have proven to be expensive, especially dealing with bringing older buildings up to code and transforming them, like in the case of Rise Uptown, a former office high-rise.
“In the case of Rise Uptown, it would have been far cheaper to tear down those buildings and then just rebuild an 80-room boutique hotel,” said Crutchfield. “But here’s what you wouldn’t have. You wouldn’t have preserved very important mid-century buildings, you wouldn’t have preserved the history of Phoenix.”
In addition to the value these projects add to the community, he said adaptive- reuse developments are actually a more sustainable way to do business.
“The existing building is the most green building,” said Crutchfield. “Because if you have to tear the existing building down, there’s all of the carbon footprint that goes with that. And then you have to rebuild something there, there’s all the carbon footprint that goes with that. The greenest buildings in the world are the buildings we already possess because the impact to the environment, to tear a building down and fill landfills and then have to go resource all of the new materials, all of that has significant impact to climate.”
That sustainability is especially important as the U.S. and Arizona continue to see supply chain shortages the cost of in-demand materials, such as lumber, is skyrocketing.
According to the National Association of Home Builders, the average price of a newly constructed home has increased by close to $36,000 since April 2020. A survey conducted in May 2021 by the NAHB found more than 90% of builders reported shortages of appliances, 87% reported a shortage of windows and doors, and more than 50% of builders reported shortages of steel beams, insulation, roofing materials, vinyl siding, copper wiring, and plumber fixtures, among other materials.
Since May 2020, the cost of steel mill products has risen more than 75%, including a 59.4% increase in 2021 alone, and the cost of prepared asphalt and tar roofing and siding products has risen nearly 15%.
Despite the inventory ready and available for adaptive reuse in the Phoenix area — except perhaps in the younger, stucco-filled outer suburbs — and COVID19’s continued impact on the industry, Crutchfield doesn’t see most developers taking advantage of the strategy.
“The difficulty of it and the large upfront expense, you know, development is enough risk as it is so developers pretty much are trying to mitigate risk. So why add risk by preserving old buildings? That’s incredibly sad but that’s probably how most people view it,” he said.
Mark Schilling, executive vice president and principal at Phoenix-based MEB Management Services, also manages adaptive-reuse projects in Phoenix and Prescott. He says he does see the tide turning to create more housing.
“I think it’s gonna play a bigger role,” he said. “The reason I think that is, the multifamily market has been super hot. Jobs are coming to Arizona, they’re coming to Prescott, they’re coming to Phoenix, they’re coming to Flagstaff. More and more people are moving here. The need for housing is growing and the cost for development is getting higher. So I think the savvy investor is looking for ways to be able to find that niche, without having to continue to buy brand-new stock.”
MEB has converted a defunct Comfort Suites in Prescott Valley into a multifamily housing development, now called The View at Prescott Valley. Other similar projects in Phoenix and Prescott are in their infancy, according to Schilling.
Contrary to Crutchfield’s more expensive repurposing projects, Schilling said converting hotel rooms into apartments has proven more cost effective. Pricing can range anywhere between $8,000 and $12,000 per unit to construct and repurpose.
“It is financially less expensive to do a conversion, as opposed to brand new development,” he said. “So that does become very attractive. These were suites, so they were slightly larger than a typical hotel. So, it afforded us the opportunity to put a kitchen in, a full-size refrigerator, kitchen cabinets, sink, a two-burner stove. And it also allowed for a seating area where you could watch TV as an example, and still have the bedroom area slightly separated. And so there’s a lot that goes into that, being able to repurpose it.”
But, like Crutchfield, Schilling concurred that reusing existing structures for a new purpose can only be good for the environment moving forward.
“You’re not using new drywall, you’re not taking up new land,” said Schilling. “All of the supplies that go into new development, including the environment itself, the space itself, the land itself, you’ve already got an existing structure that you just repurposed. So all of that goes into, you know, saving on the environment. Repurposing and redeveloping existing buildings, as opposed to taking the land, taking new water, the lumber, all of the resources required to build, it just has a bigger impact.”