Don Rypkema of PlaceEconomics in Washington, D.C., has made a name for himself by illustrating time and again the positive economic impacts of historic preservation. Rypkema reviewed his data for Georgia and noted that historic preservation projects offer immediate benefits to local economies by hiring skilled and unskilled workers, and that such projects rely on a labor force, not materials, for the bulk of their costs. Also, small, local businesses are more likely to come to a historic area, and a renovated historic building or neighborhood offers a perspective of our community’s identity that is increasingly lost in a globalizing economy and yet also has a more intangible positive impact on a community’s economy.
Tom Liebel, an architect with Marks, Thomas Architects in Baltimore, Md., discussed an extremely impressive example of a socially sustainable project, Miller’s Court. The project addressed the need for affordable housing for Baltimore’s large number of Teach for America volunteers, the majority of whom worked in inner-city schools but could not afford the available safe, inner-city housing. The project also provided combined office space and resources for area nonprofits. In short, an abandoned industrial building became a wonderful community resource that benefited all concerned. Socially and economically beneficial. Liebel also emphasized the importance of having a knowledgeable development and design team and working closely with local officials to ease headaches down the road.
Andrew Ham The economics of large-scale developments can seem overwhelming and confusing, but Andrew Ham of Urban Trust LLC in Jacksonville, Fla., made this topic understandable and dare we say, approachable. Ham’s company specializes in finding tax credits and sources of funding for historic projects and putting together “packages” for owners and developers. Renovating an old mill benefits the larger community because, he said, it typically revitalizes an area that is outside the downtown core, like Southern Mill. These projects, however, can also pose specific challenges, such as requiring innovative planning, zoning and/or building codes for an area that may have been outside a community’s focus for some time and perhaps even forsaken as a possibility for redevelopment. So, why do the projects work? Participants were surprised when Ham began explaining just how much money one can “get back” by taking advantage of local, state and federal historic preservation tax credits. On some projects benefits can amount to 50-60% of rehabilitation costs, a substantial sum for projects that typically cost in the tens of millions.
Myrick Howard is president of Preservation North Carolina, the statewide nonprofit. North Carolina has a “mills bill” which provides enormous incentives for the rehabilitation of historic mill properties. (South Carolina, looking to their northerly neighbor, has adopted a similar tax incentive.) As a result, Howard has worked on the preservation of dozens of mill rehabilitation projects, ranging from the renovation of the American Tobacco mill in downtown Durham to smaller projects in rural mill towns, often leading to the revitalization of these communities. He provided a bevy of “before” and “after” pictures showing how a kudzu-covered mill house or a rotted-out brick structure can be transformed into a viable, thriving, economic engine. Echoing what Andrew Ham had been explaining only minutes before, Howard reiterated that it’s possible for a $24 million project to be cut in half, due to available tax credits.