Identifying appropriate empty buildings

The whole idea of a 'Renew' project is to use spaces that are temporarily empty. It's not about trying to create permanent arts centres or enduring infrastructure. 

It's about reusing and recycling temporarily empty spaces to create hubs, clusters and pockets of interesting new things and catalysts for new creative activity. 

In your community it could be one building, a cluster of buildings or a whole street of them. The best candidates are places that have been or are likely to be temporarily empty for some time. 

The key element of this approach is that it requires under-utilised spaces. Typically under-utilised spaces can be found in:

  • Regional centres that have seen periods of economic decline and recession;
  • Old main streets that have been losing out to major shopping centres or changing retail patterns;
  • Stalled or partially consolidated development sites where a developer or landowner has bought up a lot of land while planning for a development that is not yet ready to proceed;
  • Transitional government land such as old schools, hospitals, community facilities or other places that might be sitting empty for a period of time until their long-term use is resolved, they are sold, or larger schemes are funded;
  • Upper floors of CBD office buildings with high vacancy rates or no tenants;
  • Anywhere else there has been a market failure and property is sitting temporarily empty.

Suitable sites can be either privately or publicly owned.

To date, Renew Newcastle has worked with private property owners, but government sites are also potential candidates if governments are willing and able to make them available on appropriately flexible terms.

The biggest single factor in successfully securing a property is the ability to communicate directly with property owners or someone empowered to make a decision on their behalf.

Each project needs to involve a genuine dialogue between the owner and those who seek to use the building.

While many similar schemes have targeted real estate agents, Renew Newcastle has found that as a general rule real estate agents are often unwilling or unable to assist with this as it falls outside their normal operations and responsibilities.

While it is certainly desirable to target high profile sites or iconic buildings, it is often easier to target a group of buildings or an area, rather than putting all your energy into activating a specific one.

This offers more flexibility and options should a property owner not be interested. It also offers the chance to create small-scale examples rather than diving straight into complicated and potentially expensive sites. 

Ultimately though, choice is determined via availability of suitable sites and in some regional centres or geographic areas choices of sites may be severely limited.