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Newsletter #1027: The “Lessons from Empty Buildings” Issue

[Welcome back to the Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That! newsletter. This is text of the great issue all of our email subscribers just received. Sign yourself up using the handy form on the right.]

Every town has empty or abandoned buildings. Most of the time, they’re symbols of something that didn’t work — that a business had to pick up and move on somewhere else or that a company failed. But for a lot of places, empty buildings represent an opportunity.

In fact, my company, GasPedal, just bought an empty produce packaging warehouse on 44 acres of land to turn it into our new corporate headquarters and, hopefully, one of the most unique places to work in Austin. It’s just one way we’re turning something someone left behind into something remarkable.

Here are three more examples for inspiration:

1. Invest in entrepreneurs
2. Fill a need
3. Turn trash into resources
4. Check it out: Abandoned Places

1. Invest in entrepreneurs

Barclays and a charity called 3Space work together to turn underused or closed Barclays branches into spaces for local entrepreneurs and the community. They include stuff like a quiet, connected space to work, 3D printers, and workshop tools. They’re there to help small businesses get started with a place to meet, get inspired, and build stuff.

The lesson: With this service, Barclays makes friends with an important group: future small-business owners. Barclays is earning their trust, getting them through the doors, and providing them with something meaningful before they even become customers.

Learn more: Barclays

2. Fill a need

As one of the most rural areas of California, it’s hard for Tuolumne County to compete with surrounding tech hubs like Silicon Valley for new businesses and job creation. So to help bring some of that communal entrepreneurial spirit to their area, they turned an empty hospital building into an “Innovation Lab.” And they provide more than just a physical space and tools for local entrepreneurs — they also offer low- or no-cost business consulting and classes. It helps bring a lot of the stuff rural folks usually miss out on, like great internet connectivity and a community of other entrepreneurs, into one place.

The lesson: You don’t have to beat the big guys to make something to help you compete. Be resourceful with what you’ve got to provide something that’s missing in your community.

Learn more: Small Biz Survival

3. Turn trash into resources

According to Julia Christensen, author of Big Box Reuse, giant retail stores are opening up and closing shop so rapidly that “there’s not a landfill on earth big enough to put all the empty big-box buildings in.” So instead of letting an empty Walmart building in McAllen, Texas, go to waste, the city turned it into a huge library. It’s helped them save money since they didn’t start from scratch, and it’s transformed a huge eyesore into a community space.

The lesson: For a story about an average-sized town with a big library, McAllen earned a lot of press — not only because their library has state-of-the-art architecture or a crazy collection, but also because they found a clever solution for a common problem.

Learn more: New York Times

4. Check it out: Abandoned Places

Take virtual tours of abandoned places and buildings like Michigan Central Station in Detroit, the Castle of the Moors in Portugal, and the Dow Brewery in Montreal.

Check it out: Abandoned Places

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