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Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Preservation notes | May is National Historic Preservation Month

For decades, May has been designated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as Preservation Month.  Many state, local, and federal organizations concerned with historic preservation often sponsor special events and activities during the month.

For years, I ran a piece on "what you can do" as well as other pieces.  The "what you can do" got so long, last year I divided it into four pieces.  This year it will be at least 59 items:

-- May is Historic Preservation Month: 59 ways to celebrate | Part 1: Learn; Get Involved (1-16)
-- May is Historic Preservation Month: 59 ways to celebrate | Part 2: Explore your community (17-33)
-- May is Historic Preservation Month: 59 ways to celebrate | Part 3: Preservation at Home (34-40)
-- May is Historic Preservation Month: 59 ways to celebrate | Part 4: Cultural Heritage Tourism (41-59)o

An installment will run each Friday, starting this week.

And I intend to write a couple of book reviews of books on historic preservation, something I've intended to do for years.

Here are some items of interest.

1. Federal historic preservation tax credit. In the federal tax "reform" bill, because the corporate tax rate was lowered significantly, it is no longer so advantageous for corporations to buy "federal historic preservation tax credits" to lower their taxes. And, the law was changed so that rather than take the credit all at once, its use has to be spread out over five years ("Historic preservation tax credit is saved, but weakened," Chicago Tribune).

In strong real estate markets, developers will still find it advantageous to rehabilitate and adaptively reuse such buildings, because they are attractive and popular with potential residents and corporate tenants seeking younger demographics as residents and employees.

But the tax credit can make a big difference in weak real estate markets, where the higher cost of rehabilitating a building to historic standards isn't necessarily "penciled out" in higher values. The federal historic preservation tax credit has been a great means of fostering successful projects with buildings that would otherwise be very hard to improve.

Time will tell what the impact will be, but it's reasonable to surmise it won't be good.

2. Restoring a theatre marquee in Saginaw, Michigan.  Signs of the Times, a trade magazine for the sign industry, has a nice piece on the restoration of the marquee and signage of the Temple Theatre,"MARQUEE DE MOD: Contemporary materials, design and teamwork rejuvenate the Temple Theatre."

I learned something new from the article. There are two types of marquees, the "trolley car" style that I think of as "street fronted" was designed with three sides, all with notice boards, for appeal to transit users.

The alternative two-sided "wedge" signage is designed to be seen from automobiles.  The marquee at the Temple is the wedge style.
Bardavon Opera House in Poughkeepsie, NY With LED S14 Light Bulbs
Bardavon Opera House in Poughkeepsie, NY With LED S14 Light Bulbs.  This is a "trolley car" style marquee.

3. Train station design. Recently I came across some architectural and design history tomes on railroad stations. I kick myself for not looking for such volumes earlier. Passenger Stations and Terminals by John Droege dates to 1916 and The Railroad Station: An Architectural History by Carroll Meeks was first published in the 1950s.  Droege also wrote about freight terminals and train yards.

4.  Architectural salvage.  There is an interesting article, "Recycling Boston’s architectural history one piece at a time," in the Boston Globe about a salvage firm in the Boston region, Restoration Resources, and how the idea of architectural salvage came out of urban renewal and the mass demolition of what we would now call historic buildings. The story discusses how the founder of the business would go scavenging on urban renewal demolition sites.

5.  Chair of NYC Landmarks Preservation Committee resigned in April, after being criticized for a rule change which would have eliminated requirements for public review of proposed changes to designated properties ("Meenakshi Srinivasan resigns as head of Landmarks Preservation Commission" Times Ledger).

6. Churches eligible or not for government grants for historic restoration? The US has laws against the involvement of government in religion and church matters. One interpretation of this has been that government funding cannot be provided to churches for anything, even if the action does not involve religion. This has come up with grants for playgrounds--the Supreme Court ruled that grants can be made available to churches so long as they are provided under an open, transparent, and general funding process.

The New Jersey Supreme Court just ruled that preservation grants can't be provided to churches, and this may set up an appeal to the US Supreme Court ("New Jersey ruling could reignite battle over church-state separation" New York Times).

This is an issue different from designation.  Some places exempt churches from designation over church-state issues.  Most places do not.  In my experience, churches can do a lot of bad things when it comes to preservation, although the national organization, Partners for Sacred Places, exist to provide support.

DC's local law was created in part as a response to a church which demolished buildings for parking and "because they cost too much to maintain."

7.  The historic preservation commission in St. Paul aims to toughen its oversight of historic preservation ("Preserving St. Paul historic districts? Or overreach?," St. Paul Pioneer Press) although some quarters disagree with providing the HPC with more authority ("Former member fights Heritage Preservation").

From my reading, with the changes the law and regulatory process would be a bit closer to that of DC, which is one of the best ordinances in the country--provided a building or neighborhood is designated.

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