The Roebuck Lofts

More than a century ago, the Security Storage & Safe Deposit Co. Warehouse was built on the water in Norfolk, Virginia and quickly became an iconic building that added to the character and style of downtown Norfolk. However, over the years the warehouse became vacant and was no longer maintained. The once beautiful site quickly transformed from a historical landmark into a public eyesore. In an effort to preserve the historic character of this building while giving it a new life, our team of design and construction professionals was brought on to convert the rundown warehouse into the new Roebuck Lofts. 

The overall project involved the preservation, renovation and conversion of the existing four-story, concrete warehouse, built in 1916, into a modern apartment building complete with luxury amenities. The Roebuck Lofts are a mix of 57 one- and two-bedroom loft-style apartments with granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and incredible water views. The building also includes a fitness center along with a rooftop terrace featuring a cornhole area, a grilling/dining space and two fire pits. The old, dilapidated pier was demolished to make way for a new pier constructed on new wood pilings. The new, floating dock provides open access to the waterway for the tenants and even has kayaks and paddleboards available for their use.   

Although construction began in late 2016, the process of coordinating with the Department of Historic Resources (DHR) to maintain the historical character of the building began long before. Most of the original architectural features of the building have been retained and showcased within the apartments, making them a unique balance of historic architecture mixed with new age design. 

The biggest ongoing challenge of this project was balancing the usual code and city requirements with the historical and FEMA requirements, therefore aiding innovative solutions and constant collaboration between all team members.  

One of the main historical conservation priorities was keeping the existing structure as exposed as possible. This required major concrete restoration of beams, floors and every window opening in the building. The wide corridors are now visible on each floor, allowing the original columns to be in view. 

When the project was originally submitted to DHR, most of the ductwork, sprinkler, and domestic water lines were exposed below the ceiling structure in the corridor leaving the ceilings in the individual units to remain relatively open and clear of piping. Over the course of this project, DHR felt that the more public corridor should retain the integrity of a more exposed ceiling. Thus, and we had to remove the piping from corridor to keep the common area more visible. We met this challenge by looping the piping around the building and revealing it as neatly as possible within the unit.  

A new, modern elevator was also added into half of the historical elevator shaft with the bottom supported by new micro piles; however, the location of the old elevator shaft was required to be differentiated from the rest of the corridor. To achieve this, the historical elevator shaft was accentuated with diamond plate metal flooring and a bold accent ceiling color. 

Floating above the previously ballasted concrete roof, a structural steel supported composite deck was constructed raising the new habitable roof level to just below the top of the parapet. The roof deck is held back 6 feet from the existing façade of the building and a structural glass railing is included around the perimeter. The deck was specifically designed to not significantly impact the permanent view of the building, as required by DHR, and coincidentally enhances the view from the roof top for the tenants. During design, our team created renderings with 3D views to show DHR how we would be able to achieve this requirement from multiple vantage points in the nearby neighborhoods. We met their requests and could move forward with construction. 

Additionally, in order to meet flood requirements set forth by FEMA, a new first floor was constructed out of structural steel, decking and concrete and was elevated above the existing floor slab. In the lower lobby, which remains on the existing floor slab, all exposed wall surfaces had to be made of materials that could not be easily damaged by water. We achieved this requirement by installing white subway tile just beyond the new first floor line. Furthermore, we kept all electrical components for the required ADA lift above the flood plain. 

Because the building was converted from a warehouse into a residential facility, a change in use group was also needed. This required the building to meet all the standard criteria for new, residential construction, including sound values for floors, demising walls, etc. However, the owner was still very concerned about mitigating any and all sound issues created from floor to floor and between tenants. To alleviate the owners concerns, our team went above and beyond to ensure sound isolation was achieved throughout the building.  

Through our team’s collaborative approach, we were able to successfully navigate these challenges of restoring and converting this historical building into a revitalized landmark not only for the tenants, but for the City of Norfolk to enjoy for the years to come.

Best Renovated or Historic Rehabilitation Project

HRACRE Excellence in Development Design
Merit Award of Excellence

Client: James Reidy, 519 Front Street Property, LLC

Location: Norfolk, Virginia

Renovation : 58,008 SF


Structural Engineer: Sinclair Pratt Cameron, P.C.

PME Engineer: Coastal Engineering

Contractor: Clancy & Theys