Written by Kimberly Kooles
At the invitation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), I recently traveled to Concord, New Hampshire on a sustainability fact-finding mission. As one who so rarely gets to indulge in actual hands-on application of the preservation principles and tools we hold dear, I traveled with excitement and interest at what we would find.
Our large group included representatives from the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance (one of our Statewide Partners) the New Hampshire Department of Historical Resources, the EPA, and several folks from the National Trust. We descended upon the city for two days of meet-and-greets, building tours, property owner interviews, and committee meetings. Needless to say our visit was packed full of insight into the city’s redevelopment advantages and pitfalls.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Sustainable Communities will be working with Concord, New Hampshire over the next several months, providing technical assistance support as the city works to sustainably reuse and redevelop their historic downtown. Commendably, the EPA has worked to involve the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation in the very early stages of the project last fall.
In the words of Rebecca Williams from our Northeast Office, “Concord has a lot going for it – an architecturally distinctive Main Street, a savvy and active Main Street program, strong preservation infrastructure, dedicated government committee members, an apparent desire to be sustainable, multiple colleges, established residential neighborhoods, and a good mix of independent local businesses.” So why is the community struggling in their efforts to fill their upper floor vacancies lining Main Street?
The lag in occupancy and development of the upper floors bordering Concord’s Main Street can be attributed to similar circumstances found in communities across the nation. An unbalanced perception of rehabilitation costs versus new construction, concerns over ADA and life safety code compliance, unreliable transportation infrastructure, and a lack of enthusiasm among key property owners all work to slow the efforts of Concord.
As this collaborative process moves forward, the National Trust will continue to assist the efforts of the EPA as it works to identify solutions to reduce barriers, identify incentives and develop tools that will be successful in the sustainable redevelopment of Concord’s historic downtown core.
Kimberly Kooles is a program associate in the Center for State and Local Policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.