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Thread: Pitching a historic preservation project as economic development?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Pitching a historic preservation project as economic development?

    Hey everyone.

    I've spent the last year working on a historic resources survey of the entire municipality. We cataloged more than eighty different structures or sites of historic interest in the community and created inventory forms for each of them, along with original photographs obtained from historical society archives and new photos that we took out in the field. We assembled everything together and created a user-friendly document that also tells the story of the community's history from the time of its founding. We're pretty pleased with how it came out.

    Our department will be presenting the finished first draft of the document to the elected officials next week. They authorized the project a year ago, but as we all know, economic fortunes have continued to decline since then and historic preservation isn't exactly a priority at the moment. When I present this to them, how can I pitch the document as being for something more than historic preservation? The document could certainly serve as the basis for future heritage tourism initiatives - for example, a walking tour of downtown historic structures, or creation of historic brochures or other materials. No doubt there are other angles as well. The core issue is that we don't want to squander the department's capital by portraying the project as something frivolous. Any thoughts on how best to do this? Thanks!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    I believe that the economic value would come from having something historically significant to show off. I know that Boston's Freedom Trail has done a lot for portions of Old Boston and I have wandered around Manhattan's Lower East Side to see historical representations of the old immigrant villages there and enjoyed the new immigrant communities that have developed within them. Is there anything historically significant to sell? Something that someone who graduated from 11th Grade US History would know about. Otherwise it would seem to me that you are trying to sell ice to Eskimos. Is it similar to the local historically buildings and districts that make a lot of older communities across the eastern United States or is it something truly unique and different?

    From there, is there room to take advantage of the tourism? Are or could there be restaurants, hotels or B&B's? Is there night life opportunities? Where will tourists be willing to spend money to provide economic development rather than just taking up space.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    There are a number of studies out there on the economic benefits of historic preservation. They might give you some ideas for your presentation.

    I found a great list of statewide studies (with links) here:

    http://www.achp.gov/economic-statewide.html

    There's also a good description of the uses of historic resources survey information on this page.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    You beat me to it Mud Princess! I would like to second her post and I personally know the authors of the Florida papers. They are extremely knowledgable and taught me everything I know about Historic Preservation! Make sure to check with your SHPO, they may have resources you can use and can help you with all the grant money available for rehab projects (which create jobs!)
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  5. #5
    Cyburbian JimPlans's avatar
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    Good links above, though the Maryland one wasn't working. Here it is:

    http://www.preservationmaryland.org/..._Value_scn.pdf

    There is also a more recent study in MD that specifically looks at tax benefits and construction employment created by historic preservation redevelopment:

    STATE OF MARYLAND
    HERITAGE STRUCTURE REHABILITATION TAX CREDITS ECONOMIC & FISCAL IMPACTS


    And one from 2008:

    Heritage Tax Credits: Marylandís Own Stimulus to Renovate Buildings for Productive Use and Create Jobs, an $8.53 Return on Every State Dollar Invested

    Good luck.

  6. #6
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    I administer a National Register Historic District in a small town with approximately 375 contributing structures. What I have always used to convince people of the true economic benefit of preservation is the idea that historic districts uphold property values. Our municipality worked with a large research university to demonstrate the economic benefits of local preservation efforts to homeowners. The study showed that homes in and near the Historic District (regardless of size or price) appreciate faster than those further away from the district. And higher property values mean a stable tax base.

    The main concern of elected officials, in my neck of the woods anyway, is the bottom line. Explain that preservation isn't just frilly ornamentation with no higher purpose, instead it is a relatively sophisticated way to market and invest in your community, while preserving the heritage of the community too. Ground your argument by mentioning that preservation is a tool, that if used wisely, is a fundamental component of any economic development program. And when you compare preservation to other economic development strategies (tax forgiveness, low interest loan programs, etc.) it is relatively inexpensive.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Thanks for all of the feedback, everyone. We brought the project before the board and things went well, all things considered.

  8. #8
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    Get the latest copy of "The Economics of Historic Preservation: A Community Leader's Guide" by Donovan Rypkema. You can order it from the National Trust (but you might get it cheaper on Amazon or something similar). I have the 2008 printing of the 1994 edition - don't think there's a newer edition than that. Some of the figures may be a little dated, but with the economy like it is that shouldn't matter. Nothing's accurate these days!

  9. #9
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    More up-to-date ideas can be found on Donovan Rypkema's website and blog:

    http://www.placeeconomics.com/index.html

    The National Trust's "Forum Journal" newsletter has covered a lot about how preservation works in a down economy and within the context of "green" development in the past couple of issues--and why it's better for local economies than new construction in many cases.

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