adaptive reuse

Adaptive Reuse in Orlando’s Milk District

Our little big town Orlando is growing up, and everything that happens right now has a bearing on how people will know and experience Orlando for decades and more to come.

So I was pleased to be at The State of the Milk District last month, which included an excellent panel discussion focused on the subject of adaptive reuse, particularly as it relates to the restoration/remodeling of several businesses in the Milk District. Sideward Brewing, Alchemy Hair Salon and the Orlando offices of Detroit-based Barton/Marlow in the revamped Barney’s Coffee space, are all three stellar buildings from the mid-century era. These guys made the decision to NOT bulldoze their buildings and throw up non-descript and plastic edifices.

Instead, they committed to reuse, thereby sustaining the character of the increasingly bustling area and maintaining its grit. In a city and area which has in the past wasted no time tearing down perfectly good structures (who needs another strip mall anyway) – both commercially and residentially – I am in awe, have respect for, and deeply appreciate what is being accomplished in the Milk District. Orlando and the rest of Central Florida need more of this.

And now for a short word study. Bear with me as this is relevant.

When looking in my old and tattered 30-pound Webster’s dictionary, the words hospice, hospitable, and hospital are right in a row. Not too far along is the word host. All these words are intimately connected.

What’s more, historically hospitals served a different purpose than they do now: they were places of refuge, respite, lodges for the poor or aged. The word hospital comes from the Latin hospes, which is indicative of strangers or foreigners. Guests.

Coming from the same Latin noun is the word hospitality, hostel, and hotel. Our current understanding of the word hospital is utterly different from that of when the word was first used, an adaptive reuse of the term, as it were. Etymological study complete.

It is no wonder, then, that all these words – particularly hospital, hospitality – were on my mind and their historical definitions not lost on me when several weeks ago I attended the State of the Milk District, an emerging neighborhood near downtown Orlando.

The aforementioned State of the Milk District, held at the landmark Plaza Live on Bumby Avenue, was sponsored by Orlando Health (indeed, a hospital system). If any feeling was palpable, it was one of hospitality. I was energized with that feeling as I moved about, meeting new business owners and the movers and shakers in this Main Street Association, one of a dozen or so in Orlando. And it was a delight to speak with Zac Alfson, Milk District’s recently hired Executive Director and being introduced to each who sit on its board of directors. People were friendly. People were enthusiastic, especially Mark Jones, President of Orlando Health and City Commissioner Patti Sheehan. People were there to show their commitment to the ideal of welcome, of hospitality, community, and that of being good neighbors. What an idea!

In a world – especially in Central Florida – where some people do not think of hospitality as anything other than a stop and stay at an attraction, these folks are adaptively reusing and redefining the truth: community matters. We are who we are because of our neighbor, not in spite of it, and that is a good thing. The State of the Milk District is a state of hospitality.

Lionel Smith-McGehee

Business development and branding associate with a passion for all things related to design and lifestyle.