Historic Preservation: Fostering Downtown Revitalization

2 May

In this first article in a series celebrating May as National Historic Preservation Month, DCI invited guest author Kathleen Lenihan, AIA, to share stories of successful marriages of historic preservation and downtown revitalization in Colorado communities.

The Toltec Building in Trinidad

Historic preservation facilitates economic development   and downtown revitalization through the retention and reuse of historic structures and districts. People have rediscovered the value, craftsmanship and history found in historic downtown districts bypassed or neglected by the “big box” utopia of 20th-century commercial development. Historic preservation efforts in downtown areas have resulted in economic and communal investments, fostering an urban renaissance and revived community identity in many American towns.

Recognizing historic preservation’s potential for positive economic impact on communities and revitalization, the National Trust Community Investment Corporation (NTCIC) was created in 2000 as a for-profit subsidiary of the National Trust. The purpose of the NTCIC is to finance large historic preservation and rehabilitation projects that qualify for Historic Tax Credits.

The NTCIC partnered with Rutgers University Center for Urban Policy and the Historic Tax Credit Coalition to produce The First Annual Report on the Economic Impact of the Federal Historic Tax Credit. The report shows that 58,000 new jobs were created in 2008 as a result of historic preservation projects utilizing the Historic Tax Credit. Since its inception in 1978, the Historic Tax Credit has resulted in $85 billion invested in historic preservation projects, and created 1,800,000 new jobs. This statistic is even more compelling because it only accounts for jobs created and investment dollars spent for projects that utilized the Historic Tax Credit.

Locally, historic preservation has promoted economic development and revitalization in many downtown communities. The City of Loveland, Colorado, is a Certified Local Government by the National Parks Service and the Colorado State Historic Preservation Office, a designation which entitles them to technical assistance and funding for historic preservation projects. The result is a more vibrant downtown that benefits building owners and retailers.

Jim Guggenhime, who owns three buildings in downtown Loveland, can speak to the benefit to the city. “As people come in and work on historic buildings and storefronts, it has a positive impact on the public perception of the downtown area and generates interest in it as a destination.”

Longmont, Colorado, another Certified Local Government, created the Longmont Downtown Development Authority to promote development and revitalization in the Downtown Longmont District. In March 2011 the LDDA Board passed an Arts and Entertainment District Plan that includes historic preservation planning as a means of facilitating interest and economic growth in its historic downtown.

Brien Schumacher, Principal Planner for the City of Longmont, has observed the positive impact on Longmont. “Historic preservation creates community identity and a focal point to bring people downtown,” he notes.

The LDDA offers façade improvement grants and loans to assist building owners in their street-front preservation efforts. And, the efforts are paying off: the Longmont Downtown District was recently voted the Best Shopping District for North Metro and Boulder County by Yellow Scene Magazine.

The City of Trinidad has also experienced the economic benefits that historic preservation creates.  A shining example is the Toltec Building in downtown Trinidad, the first building to receive the designation “Most Endangered Historic Building in Colorado.” The city acquired the building and worked with the state to restore the exterior, then sold it to a private developer who completed its rehabilitation into lofts and office space. The once-abandoned building is now an anchor for the city’s downtown revitalization efforts.

As Louis Finberg, Planning Director for the City of Trinidad, succinctly states, “Historic preservation makes downtowns more attractive.”

The fact that historic preservation stimulates downtown revitalization and economic development is irrefutable. Historic preservation projects have continued to create jobs and financial investments in downtown communities despite the stagnant economy. It promotes interest and investment in historic downtown districts as destinations, resulting in the development of restaurants, art galleries, specialty good shops, living spaces and civic centers. Historic preservation is a catalyst for downtown revitalization, economic development and redefining a community’s identity. It is a critical component in any downtown revitalization and economic development effort.

Kathleen Lenihan is a licensed architect and qualified architectural historian with international experience working on award winning projects. She holds graduate degrees in Architecture and Preservation. Her work with property owners, developers, institutions and government authorities has facilitated the preservation, restoration and rehabilitation of a diverse range of historic structures.
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