Written by Erica Stewart
This is the second in a series of blog posts featuring projects that have creatively adapted historic buildings to fit new uses, bringing essential services, jobs, and civic pride to their community. These retrofits have transformed an opulent theatre, a rural schoolhouse, a Beaux Arts post office, among others—and all utilized federal historic tax credit equity from the National Trust Community Investment Corporation (NTCIC). The National Trust Community Investment Corporation, celebrating its 10th anniversary and $330 million in dollars invested, is a proud partner in more than 60 amazing transformations.
To behold the full power of preservation, look no further than Baltimore, Maryland. NTCIC has a $26 million track record of investment in four projects there, a city rich in historic resources, the political will to save them, and the financial tools to do it. The impact of rehabilitating Baltimore’s well-worn treasures goes far beyond their four walls. Historic rehabilitation projects can not only transform buildings, but entire communities.
Need proof? Two examples from opposite sides of Baltimore sing out. Take the historic Hippodrome Theatre—now known as the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center—the site of a $71 million rehabilitation that reinvented West Baltimore as a destination for world-class theater, and in the process, ushered in tremendous economic benefit for the city. Over a five-year period, the theatre is projected to yield $26 million in expenditures, about $18 million in personal income, 490 permanent jobs and $1.9 million in state and local tax receipts.
On the other side of town, a world away from velvet ropes and Broadway shows, the reuse of a former brewery building in East Baltimore has saved an abandoned landmark from ruin, and buoyed an entire neighborhood’s chances for revival as well.
The American Brewery Brewhouse was built in East Baltimore in 1887, its five-story tower making it one of the tallest gravity-fed breweries in North America and an imposing witness to the community’s boom—and eventual bust. Vacated in 1973 after brewery operations ceased, the building deteriorated while the neighborhood sunk into poverty and crime, drug use and violence surged. Various redevelopment schemes for the brewhouse were proposed and failed, earning the building “white elephant” status and symbolizing the despair felt by the entire community.
Then, in 2005, the nonprofit organization Humanin, Inc., a 40-year old social services organization based in suburban Maryland, happened across the building on a scouting mission and it was love at first sight. Having snuck inside, the building’s vast potential—despite ankle-deep pigeon guano and rotting roof and timbers—was evident, as was the surrounding community’s need for Humanim’s services (they provide workforce development training to persons with barriers to employment).
In April 2009, their dream to make the brewhouse their organization’s headquarters became reality. Two-hundred fifty of its employees relocated there—bringing with them their need for restaurants, retail, vendors, etc. --and 40 individuals from the surrounding community were hired. This impact is in addition to the project’s estimated $12.6 million in household and business income and $1.3 million in state and local taxes. I don’t have to say that this represents a huge boost to an area with 51% percent poverty and unemployment at four times the national average.
Equally exciting is that the brewhouse rehabilitation is not the only sign of hope in the community. Johns Hopkins has a medical complex in development nearby, a light- rail station is in the works, and Humanim has plans to take on the bottling building on the brewery campus next.
In its bold moves forward, Broadway East is not losing its past. In keeping with historic tax credit requirements, the brewery’s exterior was preserved, a wooden grain elevator that carried malt to the tower is now visible through Plexiglas, and salvaged brew tanks serve as meeting rooms (including the so-called ‘Think Tank’), the reception desk, a board room fireplace and the exterior sign.
The result? Rather than being best known as backdrop to grim scenes from HBO’s The Wire, the American Brewery brewhouse is now a clear beacon of hope, and living proof that a community can retrace its past to find its future.
Erica Stewart is the outreach coordinator for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s community revitalization department.