Briana Grosicki, associate principal of PlaceEconomics based in Washington, D.C., joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss the economic benefits of preservation. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • Briana’s background, including growing up regularly visiting local battlefields in Virginia, volunteering with her main street district as a teen, to working with Donovan Rypkema 
  • Briana’s additional roles as chairwoman for Preservation Action and board of director for the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions
  • PlaceEconomics’ specialized consultation services at the intersection of economics and historic preservation, including research and city-wide studies, and educational talks and workshops
  • Specific economic benefits of preservation, including that for every 100 preservation/rehabilitation projects there are 186 jobs created elsewhere in the community, vs. 135 new jobs created per every 100 typical construction projects
  • Dispelling typical myths about preservation, including that historic preservation is a major cause of unaffordable housing, when in reality historic districts are more likely to include mixed-income housing than neighborhoods with speculative development (i.e., flipped houses and airbnbs)
  • Challenges in the field of preservation, such as increasing preservation’s advantages for and accessibility to all people 

 

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For individuals interested in getting help with preservation in their community, Briana encourages they contact her or other staff at PlaceEconomics – they are always open to discussing if they are right for a client or community! You should also tell your local officials about PlaceEconomics’ services!

Briana also suggests that individuals who may be less likely to work with PlaceEconomics’ firm directly continue to work on preservation at a grassroots level – from government involvement with organizations such as Preservation Action, to simply maintaining their own historical buildings, investing in existing resources, and using local resources to fund the local economy.

Briana encourages everyone to consider involvement in Preservation Action’s virtual auction this year, scheduled for October 27th, at 7PM

Julie Fitzpatrick and Mary Tate, Executive Director and Field Services Coordinator of Pennsylvania Downtown Center, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss the nonprofit organization’s mission and services. We covered a multitude of topics including:

  • Julie and Mary’s backgrounds in related fields 
  • How the mainstreet methodology remains relevant, particularly when addressing current issues and “creating places where people are choosing,” as Julie says
  • How they address issues like the pandemic and civil unrest/protests, including helping communities develop task-forces and encouraging community dialogue
  • Ways individuals can support their local communities/downtowns, especially during these unusual times
  • How preservation is an economic advantage for communities, and how to leverage its benefits
  • Trends and challenges in preservation in downtowns and communities, including the possibility that preservation will be at risk based on shifting priorities
  • Their continued effort to adapt to circumstances, while upholding the core importance of mainstreets and downtowns as the unique symbol of their communities 

 

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Julie and Mary suggest some ways that interested people can support their communities via PA Downtown Center, including utilizing their free resources, or becoming a member

Also, stay tuned for an upcoming educational resource – they will be collaborating with Donovan Rypkema of Place Economics related to the economic benefits of preservation.

PART 4 PRESERVATION MONTH 2020 SERIES

LAST WEEK WE PRESENTED PART 3 on the Economic Benefits of Preservation. Part 4 of this series focuses on substitute materials. “Substitute” may not be the first word that comes to mind when we think of preservation, and anyone who knows us knows that we try to preserve, maintain, and repair existing structures and features whenever possible. However, the use of substitute materials in building is not new (even George Washington used wood painted with sand to simulate stone). And, although one of the primary goals of preservation is the retention of original materials – preserve, maintain, repair, and replace is the “order of operations” according to the Secretary of the Interior – sometimes replacement is necessary when the preceding steps are no longer an option. Read on to find out more about deciding when and what substitute materials to use.

 


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

 

REPAIR OR REPLACE:

It is easy to think that if the look of a historical building is maintained and the appropriate types of materials are used, that the building has been successfully preserved. But preservation is not just about preserving how something looks, it is primarily focused on preserving how something is so that it remains as original as possible for future generations.

The National Park Service considers repair preferable to replacement, to save as much of the original material and historic fabric as possible. 

  • REPAIR. The following are some of their reasons for repair vs. replacement: 
    • Cost. It may be more costly in some cases to use substitute materials, depending on the situation, so using the original material (even if it is harder to find) may be more cost-effective in the long-term.
    • Durability. Substitute materials are typically less durable than original materials, rendering originals far superior. Do not fall for the “maintenance free” trap
  •  
    • Skill and knowledge. If you or the person doing the work on your building are not knowledgeable about original or substitute materials and their appropriate installation, you might run into several issues that make problems worse. A typical example of this is old brick and new mortar

 

If repair is not sufficient, the National Park Service reports that the purpose of replacing is to “match visually what was there and to cause no further deterioration.”

  • REPLACE – The following are 4 circumstances described by NPS as warranting replacement: 
    • Availability of material. It can be difficult to find a good match for historic material, particularly masonry materials due to uniqueness of color and texture. Also, some material is unavailable or may take too long to arrive, in which case a good substitute should be considered.
    • Availability of craftspeople. There may not be as many skilled craftspeople as there were in the past. However, there are people available, and it is important to make every effort to find someone to make the replacement as accurate as possible.
    • Poor original material. Just because something is historic does not always mean it is of good quality. Some materials were poor, naturally incompatible with their building, or have inferior modern substitutes. Examples of such materials include historic soft sandstones that are prone to erosion, or poor quality modern tin coated steel roofing. These might be replaced by precast concrete and terne-coated stainless steel, respectively.
    • Code-related changes. One example is buildings in earthquake zones, which are now subject to laws requiring that heavy overhanging masonry and unsecured urns be re-anchored or removed. Appropriate replacements include lighter replicas (although this may interfere with National Register status and loss of Federal tax credits for rehabilitation).

 


REPLACEMENT TYPES

  1. Replacement in-kind. This is a gold-standard level of replacement, and the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for treatment of historic properties indicate this is the first choice when things are damaged beyond repair (e.g., replace “marble for marble, wood for wood”). We’ve discussed this in the past as well.

 

  1. Replace with substitute materials. The National Park Service outlines the Secretary of the Interior’s points on how to address this. They suggest that if replacement in-kind is not possible, substitute materials may be considered. Circumstances warranting substitute materials include:
    • Original materials have performed poorly
    • No source for original materials
    • Craftspersons are not available to replicate the historic element in its original material
    • Current code requirements do not permit the use of the historic material.

 

STEPS TO REPLACEMENT:

  1. Is replacement necessary? The Secretary of the Interior’s standards encourage assessing if replacement is necessary (see steps outlined above in this article, as well as the replacement types).
  2. Assess amount/location of replacement material. The standards state that the amount and location of replacement material must be evaluated in relation to the building’s historic character –  which NPS defines as a combination of its history, materials used, and degree of craftsmanship. The degree of contribution to character by the building feature in question may require a closer replacement match, compared to another building part that contributes less or is not as visible or distinctive. Excessive reliance on substitute materials is cautioned against.
  3. Consider appropriateness of substitute material. The standards state that the appropriateness of a particular substitute material must also be considered in regard to its appearance and other factors, such as the location of the application, and the known physical compatibility of the substitute material relative to the historic material. Substitute materials must closely match the original feature. They must also be physically and visually compatible in context of nearby features and the entire building (e.g., new mortar does not work with historic brick due to physical incompatibilities).

 

Although this is our final post in the PRESERVATION MONTH 2020 SERIES, we hope that you will continue to put preservation first every month hereafter. To get you started, you can find further, more in-depth information on substitute materials from the following resources: 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART 3 PRESERVATION MONTH 2020 SERIES

LAST WEEK WE PRESENTED PART 2 on How to Preserve a Building. Part 3 of this series focuses on the economic benefits of preservation. If you’re reading this, you likely already know the qualitative benefits of preservation for communities – aesthetic appeal, educational opportunities, sustainability, and revitalization – but there are also proven quantitative benefits, including economic ones. Although Jane Jacobs – the innovative urbanist and activist – made statements that were not initially supported by factual data, many of her observations have since been corroborated since she first made them in the mid-twentieth century. Specifically, in her ground-breaking book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs stated regarding old houses: 

“Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.”

Most writers who’ve analyzed her work and this quote agree that her point was that we rely on the past to build the future, and must refine what worked before in order to meet new needs. In another way, this idea also refers to the reality that businesses (especially newly-launching start-ups) or homeowners need older buildings for their often lower price-points and economic benefits, compared to newer (often more expensive) construction. So, the benefits of old buildings for “new ideas” is both conceptual and practical. Read on to learn more about the economic benefits of preservation.


Photo by Brandon Jean on Unsplash

 

QUANTITATIVE BENEFITS OF PRESERVATION:

The following categories are small a selection of some of the most commonly examined areas of benefit, although many other representative areas of value have been studied and described, including those listed here.

  • Real estate value. Historic designation is a ubiquitous component of preservation in cities and neighborhoods, and one of the most common means of preserving multiple dwellings or buildings. However, common negative assumptions about formally-designated historic districts abound; fear of restriction and violation of property owners’ rights – including untenable regulations and decreased property value – are concerns typically voiced by those opposed to preservation and historic designation. While many preservationist and urban experts agree that more rigorous study must continually be done to examine these concerns, valuable information has been gleaned from existing data analyses that reveals the economic benefits of preservation, and some of the findings do contradict these negative assumptions and arguments against preservation/designation. Community historic preservation has been shown to increase real estate value. Place Economics noted that repeated studies over the past 30 years refute the aforementioned arguments against historic designation and preservation in terms of impact on property value.  While they agree it is often true that increased property value equates in increased property taxes (which can be challenging for some homeowners), simultaneously, they found that the “cash flow problem is offset 40 to 67 times by the increased wealth.” Based on a 2012 study in Pennsylvania specifically, an analysis of 3 separate Pennsylvania historic districts revealed significant property value increases. Homes in designated historic districts realized greater value than homes in non-designated areas, had immediate 2% value increases compared to other homes, and appreciated at an annual rate of 1% higher than other homes. This positive effect spread to homes near the designated district, with those prices increasing 1.6% with each mile closer to the district. 

 

  • Local business promotion/New jobs. Place Economics discussed not only how small businesses are a boon to cities, but also focused on the advantages of small and local businesses housed in historic districts and historic buildings. Among those old-building benefits they point to attractive, small spaces, and competitive rent prices. They cite various cities where a large percentage of small or local businesses are located in historic districts. In some cases, those same districts account for a larger percentage of female and minority ownership. Many of these historically-located businesses are start-ups, which in and of themselves typically account for a significant percentage of new job creation in many cities. David J. Brown of the National Trust for Historic Preservation also noted the power of preservation itself for creating new jobs, including those that cannot be outsourced.

 

  • Neighborhood diversity/Affordable housing. While many still assume historically-designated neighborhoods are made up of upper-class, mostly Caucasian people – and while that is still the case in some places –  there are increasing exceptions. Place Economics shared several illustrative cases of diverse historic neighborhoods, in terms of racial, ethnic, and economic heterogeneity. A related point is that this diversity allows for more affordability in some of these districts, another contradiction to the stereotypical view of over-priced historic homes, and are credited with being part of the solution to lack of affordable housing in cities. Donovan Rypkema discusses old buildings and affordable housing in-depth.

 

  • Sustainability. We’ve discussed the sustainability benefits of preservation numerous times over the years, and recently were fortunate to discuss these things more directly during a podcast interview with Amalia Leifeste and Barry Stiefel, authors of Sustainable Heritage: Merging Environmental Conservation and Historic Preservation. Place Economics also cited several pieces of literature on the topic, in addition to Leifeste and Stiefel’s book. A summation of their cited findings indicates that compared to new construction and development (even when new construction uses allegedly “Green” or sustainable new products), historic buildings not only contribute less to pollution, waste, and use of resources including energy, they have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

 

  • Heritage tourism. Place Economics reports that “Consistent findings in both the US and internationally indicate that heritage visitors stay longer, visit more places, and spend more per day than do tourists with no interest in historic resources.” Heritage tourism as an industry contributes significantly to jobs for locals as well as revenue for the local economy, as the services these tourists consume extend beyond the heritage tourism services alone. These other services include local lodging, food and beverages, local transportation, retail purchases, and entertainment. PHMC’s economic report for Pennsylvania also examined heritage tourism, and included a review of 3 sets of locations which collectively accounted for 32 million visitors annually, as of 2011. An estimation of local expenditures from heritage tourism visitors in 2010 indicated visitor spending accounted for $1 billion annually for Pennsylvania, in the previously-mentioned service categories. 

 

This is by no means an exhaustive guide, but we hope this general overview will give you a sense of some of the most pertinent economic benefits of preservation, historic designation and adaptive reuse. We also hope it will encourage you to explore the topic further on your own. For more in-depth study, you may refer to some of the following resources:

 

Next week: PART 4 OF THIS SERIES focuses on the Substitute Materials.

Preservation Pennsylvania has released their “Pennsylvania At-Risk: Twenty-Year Retrospective of Pennsylvania’s Endangered Historic Properties, Where Are They Now” edition. It’s a fascinating look at preservation in action and we’ll be posting a look at each property in a series of posts over the next several months.

INTRODUCTION
Preservation Pennsylvania established the annual Pennsylvania At Risk list in 1992, making us the first statewide preservation organization in the United States to have an annual roster of endangered historic properties. Since 1992, we have listed and worked to preserve more than 200 endangered historic resources, including individual buildings, historic districts and thematic resources statewide. For 2012, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of our organization, we are presenting a 20-year retrospective edition of Pennsylvania At Risk. In this issue, we revisit some of the amazing historic places across the Commonwealth, some of which have been rescued from extinction through preservation and rehabilitation efforts, and others that still need our help.

Approximately 18% of Pennsylvania’s At Risk properties have been lost, having been demolished or substantially altered. Another 32% have been saved or are in a condition or situation where the identified threat no longer poses a problem for the historic property. Approximately 50% of the 201 At Risk resources remain in danger, or we have not been able to confirm their current status as either saved or lost.

By monitoring these properties over the past 20 years and working with individuals and organizations trying to preserve them, we have learned many valuable lessons. Those lessons are called out throughout this publication.

Roosevelt Middle School’s most distinctive design element is its series of tile motifs located behind its eight water fountains, which depict notable scenes from the life of President Theodore Roosevelt.

• AT RISK •

2007 — Roosevelt Middle School, Erie County

Roosevelt Middle School, Erie County

Erie’s Theodore Roosevelt Middle School opened to students in 1922 featuring 17 classrooms in addition to science laboratories, workshops, home economics rooms, a gymnasium, a library and an auditorium. Linoleum was used in the school’s hallways, rather than the more traditional wooden floor. Roosevelt Middle School’s most distinctive design element is its series of tile motifs located behind its eight water fountains, which depict notable scenes from the life of President Theodore Roosevelt. Due to maintenance and safety concerns, Roosevelt Middle School was closed in June 2007. Students now use part of the school district’s Central High School. Demolition of the school had been proposed by December 2007. Beginning in 2008, Preservation Pennsylvania worked with a number of local advocates who wanted to save the school, preferably for continued educational use. In the months that followed, experienced architects from Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Erie toured Roosevelt Middle School, reviewed the school’s architectural plans and studied educational specifications provided by the School District. Based on what they knew about the existing building and the district’s needs, each architectural team designed a potential solution to renovate and enlarge the Roosevelt Middle School. These plans were then presented to the Erie City School District. Faced with financial problems, despite the fact that all three architects believed that the school was an excellent candidate for continued use as a school, the district did not act on any of these recommendations to renovate the historic school.

The building remains vacant today. The Erie School District recently hired an architect to conduct an assessment of all of the active schools in the district, as an important step in planning how they will use their facilities moving forward. Roosevelt Middle School was not included in the list of buildings that the district is considering as part of this study, indicating that they do not plan to use it in the future. Since they do not plan to use it themselves, advocates for preservation of the school are now working to try to find a new use for the building as an alternative to demolition. Currently, the historic Roosevelt Middle School is being considered for use as a charter school for at-risk students, including residential dormitories.

 

Last Wednesday, the Lancaster County Planning Commission hosted strongtowns.org’s “Curbside Chat” presented by Charles Marohn at the Manheim Township Public Library.

“Curbside Chat” is strongtowns.org’s program to discuss the financial realities facing our cities, towns, boroughs, and townships.  The Chat started with the history of what Marohn called the “Suburban Experiment” of new development that shifted homes and businesses outside of towns and into outlying areas.

[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”left” cite=”” quotestyle=”style02″] We often forget that the post-World War II American pattern of development is an experiment.  We assume it is the natural order because it is what we see all around us, but our own history – let alone a tour of other parts of the world – tells a different story. -Charles Marohn[/sws_blockquote_endquote]

How New Development is Financially and Economically Unsustainable

Marohn noted that the financial viability of the  “Suburban Experiment” is based on two assumptions that have not proven to be true:

1: New growth encouraged by suburban development will continue to be ever-accelerating.
2: New growth will create enough revenue to pay off debt incurred to create the infrastructure needed to support suburbanization and pay for the maintenance of that infrastructure.

He went on to present multiple case studies that established a pattern of suburban development (through the creation of infrastructure by local governments) that would take 50 to nearly 100 years to pay off – NOT including the cost of maintenance.    These case studies were not just focused on a particular neighborhood demographic, they included examples from low-density neighborhoods, medium-density neighborhoods, high-value properties, traditional neighborhoods, industrial parks, and commercial districts set in both rural and suburban areas.

Marohn followed the growth studies with a sobering chart on the long-term financial ramifications for local governments using this type of development: after just 20-25 years, the income created by suburbanization (after the expense of maintaining the infrastructure) begins to plummet much more rapidly than it increased during the initial years.  After just 35 years, the expenses of maintaining the development becomes greater than the income it produces and never again returns to a positive cash flow.

Note: The following chart is based on new growth models that include the assumption that new development will be implemented every two years.  If new development is not implemented every two years, the results look even worse than the chart below.

Cumulative Cash Flow - MP2LC

Sobering indeed, isn’t it?

Read more about this “Growth Ponzi Scheme”, including five articles delving into the details of Marohn’s presentation.

 

How Preservation is Financially and Economically Sustainable

It’s not as thought most of us didn’t already know that historic preservation supports financial and economic growth and stability, but the second part of Marohn’s “Curbside Chat” did include solid, and sometimes surprising, evidence for how that happens.

Marohn once again had a wealth of case studies to make the case that the preservation of existing development (even when its at its worst of transient occupancy and rundown buildings, in a state he called “Old & Blighted”) has consistently demonstrated a higher assessed value (that will produce more tax revenues) than what he called the “Shiny & New” big-box model of development that typically includes a single businesses on the same size development lot that traditional development houses multiple businesses and even residences on.

Using an ROI (Return on Investment) based on property taxes and the revenue stream those taxes produce, Marohn’s case studies show that even “Old & Blighted” vernacular downtown areas are valued significantly higher, almost doubled when looking at an overall average, than the “Shiny & New” big box development.

[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”” cite=”” quotestyle=”style02″] “Our problem was not, and is not, a lack of growth. Our problem is sixty years of unproductive growth. The American pattern of development does not create real wealth; it creates the illusion of wealth. Today we are in the process of seeing that illusion destroyed and with it the prosperity we have come to take for granted.” – Curbside Chat Companion Booklet, page 5 [/sws_blockquote_endquote]

Not only that, Marohn pointed out that “Old & Blighted” development can be stimulated and improved (adding value which would increase the revenue stream) with a much lower investment than those plots that new development sits on.

Perhaps the most interesting example he gave here was an avant-garde approach used by a group of citizens in Memphis, Tennessee.  After repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, petitioning the city to paint parking spots, crosswalks, and bike lanes into a particular downtown area of small, storefront businesses to encourage the community to support those businesses – the citizens decided to take matters into their own hands.  Spending $500 on paint, they painted the parking spots, crosswalks, and bike lanes themselves. Within six months the storefronts were filled, the businesses were doing well, and one landlord reported being able to collect twice the rental fee he has previously been able to charge.  

Marohn then outlined the strategies he suggests for turning unsustainable development models into thriving economic centers that will stand up to the test of time and create a method of placemaking that yield a higher return on public investments:

STOP: Do no more “if you build it they will come” develop and instead focus on small, incremental investments in places that are already productive

TAKE STOCK: What and where is already productive?  Where is the revenue stream coming from?  What is the tax base that produces that revenue stream?  What are the tax subsidies that reduce that revenue stream?  What are the debts that impact revenue?

START TRIAGE: Ease the suffering of “most broke” development that won’t make it and isn’t sustainable and move on to treat and improve the already productive “somewhat broke” that can be sustained, saving the “least broke” development for last.

COMMIT TO ALWAYS ADDING VALUE: Adding value with placemaking strategies encourages the kind of growth that produces positive revenue streams that can be sustained, without debt.

REORIENT SYSTEMS & APPROACH TO GROWTH: Develop a capital improvements plan that takes a hard look at the scale of infrastructure inventory, maintenance obligations, when that maintenance will come due, what that maintenance will cost, and what funding sources they rely on, to create a realistic “balance sheet” of the public’s future obligations.

The “Curbside Chat” chat companion booklet is available online, and is absolutely a must-read.  As is the information, statistics, websites, and strategies for more productive growth and placemaking preservation approaches available on the strongtowns.org website.  You can also view Marohn’s presentation schedule, as well as sign up to schedule a “Curbside Chat” presentation in your town.

 

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THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

Why have we not been implementing growth based on ROI (Return on Investment)?

How can we get our cities and towns to start thinking about growth in terms of ROI (Return on Investment)?

What kinds of inexpensive changes and improvements can be made to our neighborhoods and downtowns to add value?

What “high amenity” areas offer the potential for an increased level of public investment and engagement?

How can we add value to those “high amenity” areas?

What are incremental strategies that can add value to existing development in cities and towns?

How can we articulate the ways that historic preservation continues to that value?

How can we communicate that to our towns and cities?

How does creating a sense of place with historic preservation contribute to the placemaking principles that Strong Towns advocates?

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