Azola Building Rehab Inc.
For 42 years, the Azola family of companies has been breathing new life into aging buildings of all sizes and shapes throughout the greater Baltimore area. The entity sees potential in the old, the rundown and bygones of the past; it has owned, developed, repurposed, reused, retrofitted, reclaimed, managed and leased some of the most interesting historic buildings in Maryland. Now in its third generation, Tony Azola has started Azola Building Rehab. Inc. (ABR) to continue the family’s mission.
“Our main niche is primarily historic restoration and adaptive reuse projects in the commercial arena,” says Tony, president of ABR. “Most of our work is through projects we’ve put together; we’re developers, as a well as general contractors. We have a lot of regular clients we work with, but we don’t go out and bid on jobs so to speak.”
ABR also excels in design-build delivery. “We hire the architect and engineers for a true design-build project where we oversee all design and construction,” Tony details. “With adaptive reuse projects, design-build allows us to work as a team from the start, which enables us to tackle the jobs other people wouldn’t even think of doing.”
Building on a legacy
The Azola story began in 1966, when Joseph Azola brought worldwide construction experience to the remodeling market in Maryland, where he became increasingly involved with historic properties. Martin “Marty” Azola, president of Azola & Associates Inc., Joseph’s son and Tony’s father, joined the organization in 1973, furthering his expertise. It wasn’t long before many prestigious area institutions placed their cherished historic buildings in the Azola’s hands.
As the industry has transitioned to adaptive reuse, broadening to include existing, not necessarily historic, but also aging properties, for new purpose, Azola has expanded in multiple directions. “Building on its passion and experience, Azola has challenged itself and transformed the industry,” reads the company’s website. “The result: diverse new uses and sharper disciplines for functionality, financial practicality and sustainability.”
Today, the third generation is carrying on the family of companies. Tony joined the family business in 2002, and in 2014, started ABR, which continues the Azola mission to bring new life to spaces. Contemporary needs are leading to a greater variety of buildings, configurations and workplace identities. “Many interesting structures, be they 100 years old or 20, have the potential to be very cool workplaces,” notes Tony. “And that will always be the root of what we are about.”
Since its inception, Azola has been a Baltimore-based business and Tony says the company has no plans of going anywhere else. “We’re a fairly small, family-owned firm with just five employees in the office and five in the field,” he notes. “There’s lots of work in Baltimore for us. In the past, we’ve branched out and have gone to Washington, D.C., but we don’t need to travel right now, there’s plenty in our backyard.”
From the Maryland Zoo, one of the most historic sites in the country, to the iconic Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower, ABR is a multirole developer, construction and property manager, as well as owner-leaser of distinctive properties throughout the city. “We’ve had great success – 100 percent – with historic tax credit programs and promoting the importance of using these programs to their maximum potential,” details Tony. “My father actually spoke in congress in the 1980s on the importance of using historic tax credits to fund construction of these projects.”
ABR’s projects typically fall within the $2 to $6 million range, but Tony says the company is capable of much smaller and much larger size jobs. “We’re currently underway on a $16 million restoration of an old inner city mansion,” he tells. “We’re turning it into a five-star boutique hotel with 18 suites, a restaurant and a spa. This project will be finished in early 2015.”
Not your average space
Whether it’s a repurposed office building or housing conversion, ABR delivers anything but cookie-cutter; think vast vertical space, interesting industrial features and distinctive exterior characteristics. It’s all the small details that up to a big wow factor.
With a new purpose in mind, ABR matches the concept for the building to a fascinating, functional result. “We’re known for adaptive reuse,” says Tony. “Three years ago we renovated an old jail and turned it into an office in Baltimore County. We also took a 50,000-square-foot steel fabrication warehouse from the 1970s and turned it into a residential re-entry center, which assists federal ex-offenders in making successful transitions back into their communities. The building had high ceilings, which allowed us to build a second floor above the first floor living space. It was an interesting project, because you wouldn’t typically think of putting people in an old factory. It’s always exciting to bring projects like this to areas in need of something refreshing.”
One of Baltimore’s most iconic buildings is the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower. ABR completed a 15-floor interior restoration, including another 80 feet of clock and various platforms in 2007. “We’ll be working on the exterior restoration in spring 2015, which will really bring the building to life,” notes Tony.
But it’s the atypical, uncommon settings where ABR truly makes its mark. “Through the downturn, our niche market allowed us to have work going when no one else did,” adds Tony. “Even if they weren’t large projects, we had a plethora of small restoration jobs and quite a bit our own development.”
Throughout Baltimore there are hundreds of interesting structures of historical, commerce and cultural significance. Azola Building Rehab Inc. is finding ways to repurpose and restore these facilities back to original grandeur or a new identity for the future.
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