By Carolyn Weber. After a 20-year, on again off again redevelopment, the century-old American Cigar Co. building has a new lease on life. Home to 171 rental units overlooking the James River, this former tobacco warehouse is now Richmond, Va.'s first large-scale loft project.

Historic tax credits and the conservative nature of the marketplace resulted in some restrictions on the design: The architects were required to keep the exterior intact. "We tried to play off the existing materials," says architect Jeff Henneman, who replaced the original 10-foot-by-7-foot arched wood windows with new ones identical in style and proportion. The sophisticated interiors, on the other hand, are modern and industrial, with 14- and 17-foot ceilings, sandblasted exposed brick, and lots of natural stone, wood, and metal. "It's an eclectic look because we wanted to honor the history yet add some modern elements."

Photo: Hedrich Blessing

The units appeal to singles, couples, and empty-nesters, and rents have set the pace for the Richmond market. Initially priced at $1 per square foot, the units now go for $1.35 per square foot and were 100 percent pre-leased months ahead of schedule. Category: Adaptive Re-Use; Entrant/Architect/Land Planner/Landscape Architect: Barton and Associates, Plymouth Meeting, Pa.; Builder/Developer: Forest City Residential Group, Bethesda, Md.