Historic Preservation Tuesday: A good initiative for a weak residential real estate market: Pittsburgh's Renovation Inspiration Contest
Weak residential markets--at the city or neighborhood scale--need constant promotion in order to recruit new residents who will be attracted because of inherent characteristics--mostly concerning historic building stock, amenities, location, presence of artists etc.--that once were highly valued, but in the Metropolitan City era were rejected as part of the embrace of the suburban ideal.
Baltimore is a good example of having two tiers of programs. Live Baltimore is a resident recruitment program, providing promotion and packaging various inducements focused on attracting new residents to the city.
Generally, the neighborhoods they promote are stable, rather than emerging or transitioning. Baltimore's Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative focuses on strengthening transitioning neighborhoods.
Weak market cities tend to have some of these kinds of programs or other organizations, like the Cleveland Restoration Society, which coordinate loan and renovation resource and information programs, through the Heritage Home Program. Or the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association's wide range of programs including training seminars, a loan program, and an annual expo.
The Design Center, formerly the Community Design Center of Pittsburgh, used to have a wide ranging homeowner renovation assistance program that I considered a national best practice, although they have since shifted to neighborhood scaled programs and away from providing individualized assistance to homeowners.
Since so many homeowners tend to make historic architecture-unsympathetic decisions, there is a big need for this information.
And some historic districts and sometimes Downtown residential promotion organizations hold annual house tours as a way to promote their neighborhoods and attract new residents.
But it isn't done enough.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has stepped in the breach a bit, with the Renovation Inspiration Contest, which they have run for nine years. The competition is sponsored by Dollar Bank and judged by staffers of the Post-Gazette, Design Center and Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation (the city's historic preservation advocacy group), and is open to residents in the P-G's circulation area--it is not limited to residents of Pittsburgh.
There are three categories: large residential; small residential; and commercial.
This year's winners in the "large residential" category renovated a building in the Garfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh. It had been abandoned for many years, but previously the three-story building had apartments above a ground floor supermarket.
The building had been almost completely gutted, so they had a lot of flexibility in redeveloping the space.
Note that I would argue that the contest could be better leveraged, combined with house tours and promotion of all the finalists, not just the winners in each category, as a way to spark "inward investment" and higher quality renovation work in revitalizing areas.