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.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Really great article on historic preservation (North Carolina)

The Raleigh News & Observer named Myrick Howard, president of Preservation North Carolina for 45 years until he retired this year, the 2023 Tar Heel of the year ("He’s rescued 900 buildings to save NC history. Meet the N&O’s Tar Heel of the Year").

PNC has been a leader in various real estate strategies including tax credits and a revolving fund, to save and restore all those properties during his tenure.

From the article:

Meanwhile, from the 1950s through the 1970s, his hometown had undergone the same kind of “urban renewal” that happened across the country with the help of federal Housing and Urban Development and transportation grants. While aimed at updating aging infrastructure and encouraging economic growth, urban renewal nearly always resulted in the destruction of lower-income neighborhoods and business districts, with residents getting displaced and buildings being bulldozed. Often the structures were replaced with highway bypasses, such as the Durham Freeway, or their former lots were simply left empty.

... By the time he heard a UNC professor talk about the need to save the buildings that connect people to the past, Howard intuitively understood that buildings are part of the fabric of a community. 

“I think there is something to be said for feeling connected,” Howard says, and buildings draw us together through the people who design, build and own them and all the ways we use them over time. “As long as the building remains, you can continue to tell the stories,” Howard says. 

Once the building is gone, it’s eventually forgotten along with the stories.”

... In his book, “Buying Time for Heritage,” first published in 2007 and updated and re-released this fall to explain why and how to operate a revolving fund to save historic buildings, Howard describes the Antiquities Society of the 1970s as largely having run its course. Its membership was aging and its board of directors was huge and unwieldy. So it reorganized in 1974 and spun off a separate nonprofit to launch a statewide N.C. version of the revolving fund that Savannah, Georgia, had created to save whole blocks of its 18th- and 19th-century beauties.

... “I think a lot of people have been very disenchanted with what happened during the last 20 years in the name of progress,” Howard said in the 1979 interview, referring to urban renewal and the loss of buildings associated with the Black and white working class. “A lot of things were torn down that people really cared about, and they’re interested now in preserving more than just the one house museum for the town. They’re interested in preserving their hotel or railroad station or a neighborhood.”

As the cost of new building materials rose and the quality of construction declined, Howard believed many people would choose on their own to rehabilitate well-built older homes and commercial structures. So a nice building in decent shape on a main street would naturally attract buyers; it wouldn’t need the help of a statewide revolving fund. Howard decided early on that where PNC could do the most good was working with the buildings that real estate agents weren’t clamoring to get the keys for, that had sat vacant for years, that people either didn’t notice when they drove past or, if they did, they thought, “Shame that place is left to rot like that.”

... PNC’s goal was this: to acquire endangered historic properties and find purchasers willing and able to rehabilitate them. PNC often acquires buildings as donations, which it may have to stabilize and secure with roof repairs, a lock or sheets of plywood over the windows to keep thieves from taking what remains of the woodwork. Other times, the organization negotiates an option on a property, with no money down but a set window of time in which to try to sell it. 

When it finds a buyer, PNC first buys the property and then resells it to the new owner in the same day, so the organization can place protective covenants on it. Every property that PNC works with transfers with legal covenants that guard its important historical aspects in perpetuity, but still allow for creative reuse. 

“We don’t want to get too precious,” Howard says, echoing what he has taught in his city and regional planning class at UNC for 35 years. “If you get too restrictive, you scare people away.” 

It sounds simple, but just as restoring these buildings can be full of surprises, so can the process of buying and selling them, which can take years and requires a level of patience the average real estate salesperson can’t fathom or afford.  

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home