The Historic Properties Redevelopment Program Builds Network of Preservation Developers

By Melissa Jest posted 04-02-2015 14:12

 Old Merchant Ice and Cold Storage building in San Antonio, TX
Old Merchant Ice and Cold Storage building in San Antonio, Texas | Photo courtesy of Stacy Kaplowitz of Herman & Kittle

A year ago, thanks to generous funding from the 1772 Foundation, the National Trust established the Historic Properties Redevelopment Program (HPRP). The goal of this new program is to foster a sense of community and create an interactive information network for preservationists and community developers around the country, and to increase the use of preservation revolving funds and financing techniques that boost historic property redevelopment.

Why does the National Trust think this program is so important? Because, as David Brown noted in his July 2014 Preservation Leadership Forum blog, preservation and the reuse of historic properties is at the heart of much of the renewal of American communities over the past 30 years.

Our outreach and research over the first year has supported this idea—that the redevelopment of historic properties has a crucial role to play in the health and well-being of our cities. The stars of this effort are historic property redevelopment programs, also known as preservation revolving funds. The catalytic effect from the nearly 70 historic property redevelopment programs run by preservation organizations nationwide is huge. A 2014 study of 20 programs, for example, found that together these 20 programs reactivated nearly 5 million square feet of usable space, valued at $496 million—generating more than $3.1 million in property tax revenue. These findings confirm preservation’s place within the community development universe.

Also within that universe are mission-based community developers who work within numerous older neighborhoods and cities with demonstrated need and untapped potential. Reports estimate 4,600 community development corporations exist nationwide. These mission-based community organizations produced 96,000 units of housing, and 7.41 million square feet of commercial space in 2010.1 Within this vast pool exist some likely partners and opportunities to expand the use of preservation and sensitive rehabilitation in cities nationwide.

During my travels this year, I also uncovered some inspiring efforts by mission-based organizations and developers that use preservation (even though they might not call it that) in cities and towns still recovering from the recession.

RUPCO, a housing and community development organization in New York State, understands the contribution of the existing building stock in the cities and towns of the Hudson Valley region to creating economically vibrant and diverse communities. This is evident in the company’s two most recent redevelopment efforts in the cities of Kingston and Newburgh. Despite this year’s harsh winter, the nonprofit developer made great progress on the rehabilitation of Lace Mill in Kingston. “The Lace Mill is an experiment in creative placemaking smack dab in the heart of Kingston's midtown arts district,” says Tara Collins of RUPCO. The 1903 lace curtain factory is being transformed into a 55-unit apartment complex for artists. Also last year, RUPCO was selected by the City of Newburgh to receive the long-vacant historic properties from the city Land Bank. The nonprofit community developer will use historic rehabilitation tax credits and other funding sources to create 40 affordable rentals out of 15 former land-bank properties once considered blighted.

 a streetscape view of Texas Hill nhood in Mobile (#102714),
The Texas Hill neighborhood in Mobile, Alabama.

Another example is in fast-growing San Antonio. I had the chance to speak with the multi-family housing developers at Herman and Kittle Properties, Inc. They have recently taken on the redevelopment of the Old Merchant Ice and Cold Storage building. Stacy Kaplowitz, development director at Herman and Kittle, admits that reusing the circa 1909 property as part of a 262-unit residential community has added several layers of review and additional costs to the $40 million project. “There are conflicts between government priorities for the building and what the building needs for occupancy today,” Kaplowitz observed.
Making connections with other national level organizations that share a commitment to economic vitality and community empowerment continues to be an important part of the program. Frank Woodruff from the National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations (NACEDA) speaking at the 2015 People and Places community conference, offered some valuable advice for community developers.

Woodruff urged attendees to move the professional conversation from “doing more with less” to “doing more with more”—more partners, more flexibility, more vision. I spoke with him before the conference, and he strongly encourages state and local preservationists to share information about revolving funds, especially project bridge loan programs with neighboring community developers. “Preserving buildings isn’t something community developers are opposed to,” Woodruff clarified. “One way to get community developers more interested in historic preservation work is to have it improve their bottom line or that of a project they are working on.” Where the overlap exists, he said, we must explore that connection and exploit those partnerships.

 Straight University’s board house in New Orleans (#113637)
Last remaining building of Straight College in New Orleans | Credit: Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans

In my role as manager for the Historic Properties Redevelopment Program, I get to engage with state and local preservation organizations that continue to demonstrate the acuity and flexibility needed to save places. The complexity and variety of their projects also reinforce preservation’s commitment to collaboration.

I visited Mobile, Alabama. Here, the plucky group known as Restore Mobile has used its revolving fund program to save several contributing structures and build three compatible homes for low- to moderate-income homebuyers in the historic Texas Hill neighborhood. Restore Mobile is forging new relationships with community foundations and other investors to create the momentum needed to bring private reinvestment to this single-family community.

I also had the chance to meet Patty Gay, the executive director of the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans. Gay is a visionary—when she looks at a recently acquired, dilapidated Victorian house, the graffiti and wooden beams holding up the roof all disappear. Instead, Gay and her colleagues see an opportunity to reuse the last remaining building of Straight College (now part of Dillard University), founded in 1869, to seed more residential ownership on Claiborne Avenue. They will work with outside partners Claiborne Corridor Improvement Coalition, Dillard University, and Historic Faubourg Treme Association on this redevelopment effort.

My travels and conversations over the past year confirm that the time is ripe to expand the use of rehabilitation techniques that protect the value of our community’s building stock and to join forces against common threats to much-needed public funding and incentives that support this work. And herein lies the opportunity for HPRP and its growing network of preservationists, developers, funders, and others to come to the table and explore ways to positively affect historic places where we all live, work, worship, and play.

Editor's note: Hear more from Melissa in this 2014 PastForward TrustLive.

Melissa Jest is the manager of the Historic Properties Redevelopment Program. For more information about the program or to share leads on historic property redevelopment in your community, please contact Melissa at


1. According to "Overview: Community Development Corporations;" 2010 study by Democracy Collaborative.

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