The Measure of Success: Transforming Communities through Historic Properties Real Estate Programs

By Denise Gilmore posted 04-26-2017 14:13


Over the past three years, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has played a leading role in the effort to broaden the use of real estate programs to save historic assets through the Historic Properties Redevelopment Program (HPRP), with generous support provided by the 1772 Foundation. The HPRP has placed a special focus on promoting the use of revolving funds by preservation organizations and nonprofit community developers. In redeveloping historic properties, revolving funds take the form of an acquisition or loan fund that provides capital for rehabilitation. In order to keep funds available for reinvestment, the fund is recapitalized with proceeds from the sale of properties or the repayment of loans. Similar to for-profit development, investment from revolving funds revitalizes and creates affordable housing, workforce housing, sustainable housing, arts venues, and commercial districts—and can help reduce displacement in historic neighborhoods.

A rendering of the Fowler Clark Epstein Farm a project. | Credit: Historic Boston, Inc. 

How can we measure success? Successful HPRPs help transform their communities through catalytic investment and focused preservation work. Historic preservation can create affordable housing and cultural arts venues, encourage healthy lifestyles, provide access to nutritious food, and stabilize neighborhoods. Strategically deployed resources do more than preserve historic places: they create vibrant, equitable, and sustainable communities. Looking at the work of saving historic places through a “people” lens allows innovative organizations to build holistic neighborhoods that enhance the quality of life for all residents.

Preservation organizations with professional staff who have expertise in real estate, marketing, resource development, and administration and are guided by capable board of directors that instill good governance have been very successful in launching and growing HPRPs. Organizations have also thrived by forming strong partnerships with community, political, and financial stakeholders. These partnerships, which are committed to revitalizing neighborhoods, commercial corridors, and cultural arts districts, actively engage community residents and embrace and reflect those residents’ diversity. The following historic real estate projects strategically address local community needs.

Historic Boston Restores a Farm

By Kathy Kottaridis, Executive Director
Historic Boston Inc.

Fowler Clark Epstein Farm. | Credit: HIstoric Boston, Inc. 

Historic Boston Inc. (HBI) recently began construction on the 1786 Fowler Clark Epstein Farm, a rare surviving farm complex in Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood. HBI is restoring the historic farm in collaboration with the Urban Farming Institute of Boston, The Trust for Public Land, North Bennet Street School, and Baraka Community Wellness. Upon completion, the property will serve as the headquarters and demonstration farm for the Urban Farming Institute and as a training center for Baraka Community Wellness, which provides wellness education to individuals and small companies in underserved neighborhoods.

Mattapan is a transitional neighborhood that is poorly served by grocery stores and lacks nutritious food sources. It has proportionally higher poverty rates and public health issues than the rest of Boston, and it experiences a disproportionate percentage of the city’s serious crime.

The Fowler Clark Epstein Farm not only achieves HBI’s rehabilitation goals but it also fully activates a long-endangered historic property for public and educational activities that will generate fresh produce, teach nutrition, and foster the creation of urban farms throughout the region.

HBI owns the property and is responsible for its complete rehabilitation, including transforming the site’s barn into a classroom and demonstration kitchen, while the Trust for Public Land is building planting beds and farm spaces for production and instruction. HBI is making use of both state and federal historic tax credits to help finance the $3.7 million project. In addition, 12 charitable foundations and individuals have given $1.5 million toward the project, and eight of the project’s professional service companies—including architects, landscape architects, contractors, and engineers—have substantially discounted their fees.

After construction is completed in October 2017, HBI will continue to own the building for the five-year tax credit compliance period, after which point it will sell its interest to the Urban Farming Institute.

Promoting Healthy Lifestyles

By Ethiel Garlington, Executive Director
Historic Macon Foundation

Residents participate in Bike's for Beall's Hill in Macon, Georgia. | Credit: Historic Macon Foundation

Since 2007 the Historic Macon Foundation (HMF) has used a robust revolving fund, historic tax credits, and private and public partnerships to complete nearly 30 projects—both historic rehabs and new in-fill housing. In order to enrich its revitalization efforts in the Beall’s Hill neighborhood, HMF recently launched Bikes for Beall’s Hill. Funded in part by the Richard and Julia Moe Family Fund of the National Trust, the initiative promotes a healthier and more “bikeable” community. HMF partnered with local business BikeTech to offer new homeowners two bikes, two helmets, and two locks per household.

The program reinforces HMF’s revitalization efforts outside of real estate development and encourages an active lifestyle within the heart of the urban core. Since the program began, more Beall’s Hill residents have been riding bikes, which motivated Macon Bibb County to install designated bike lanes as part of a $2 million infrastructure improvement project. Beall’s Hill resident Dalton Turner explains that the Bikes for Beall’s Hill program allows him to “experience (the neighborhood’s) tangible progression in a more intimate way.”

Bringing the Music Back

By Kji Kelly, Executive Director
Historic Seattle                

Washington Hall in Seattle. | Credit: Tim Rice Photography 

Historic Seattle was created in 1974 to foster a more livable environment through advocacy, education, and preservation of buildings and cultural landscapes. This unique three-pronged approach has consistently achieved a community-focused good, and Historic Seattle takes pride in shaping a livable city that values and protects its collective history. 

The focus of Historic Seattle’s latest project, Washington Hall, has been a welcoming place where people have gathered, created, and celebrated since it was built by the Danish Brotherhood in 1908. The hall has been an affordable home to many—including those in the Filipino, African American, Korean, and Eritrean communities—as well as a popular performing arts venue, hosting musicians such as Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, and Jimi Hendrix. Many of these artists came to the hall because it was once the only venue in Seattle that would allow people of color to perform.

Although the hall had remained in consistent use for decades, it fell into disrepair and was put up for sale in 2007. Each of five potential buyers indicated their intent to demolish the building and construct condominiums. Historic Seattle secured city landmark protection for the hall and negotiated a purchase in June 2009. After a seven-year, $9.9 million campaign, Historic Seattle completed restoration of the hall in June 2016.

Thanks to Historic Seattle’s effort, the hall remains open for public gatherings and provides below–market rate space for three anchor partners—206 Zulu, Hidmo, and Voices Rising—serving a cross-section of Seattleites, including disadvantaged youth and LGBTQ people of color. While Historic Seattle remains the owner of the property and provides long-term stewardship, these community partners hold master leases and run the building’s rental program, using the resulting income to ensure that the "hall for all" once again serves the community's needs for performance, gathering, and meeting space. This operating model guarantees that the property remains a vibrant and affordable venue for the community.

Partnering with Anchor Institutions for Community Revitalization

Dwayne Jones, Executive Director, and Michael Guillot, Revolving Fund Project Manager
Galveston Historical Foundation

One of the homes that the Galveston Historical Foundation's revolving fund moved for the University of Texas Medical Branch. | Credit: Galveston Historical Foundation

Galveston Historical Foundation’s (GHF)
Revolving Fund is working with the University of Texas Medical Branch to make room for a new Student Health Education Center. In the past year, GHF has moved four historic houses from the medical campus, and it will be moving a fifth house by summer 2017. Mindful of the houses’ significance, the university has been working closely with GHF in their preservation.

Of these five houses, two have already been completely renovated, and the first has already been sold. Built in 1913 by Albert M. Darragh, these two houses received a complete rehabilitation to both restore their original architecture and upgrade the floorplans and accommodations to modern specifications.

The houses were moved to 27th and M streets in Galveston, a location strategically chosen for its proximity to significant cultural resources such as Old Central; Kempner Park; and Garten Verein, a German dancehall. The area is also part of an upcoming Galveston initiative known as the 27th Street Corridor Project, which will incorporate pedestrian right-of-ways, streetscapes, signage, and lighting. The combination of cultural resources and a city-funded beautification project will augment the GHF Revolving Fund’s rehabilitation efforts. These houses illustrate the significant role that an active preservation program can play community development.

Transforming Communities

These high-performing revolving funds have a common characteristic—they are motivated not only by a passion for saving places but also by the desire to transform communities. They recognize the power of collaboration with like-minded partners and of setting community impact goals.

Framing your work in terms of the benefit it provides to local residents won’t lessen the importance of preserving physical structures, but it will allow you to achieve a measurable impact by bringing together community, political, and financial stakeholders to partner in redevelopment projects. When your organization succeeds at both community revitalization and historic preservation, creating a livable, sustainable, and equitable neighborhood, everybody benefits.

Denise E. Gilmore is the manager of the Historic Properties Redevelopment Program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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