Written by Erica Stewart

The $3.5 million rehabilitation of the historic People’s Building in Rocky Mount, NC exemplifies the type of historic redevelopment project that will benefit from an expanded federal historic tax credit.

The $3.5 million rehabilitation of the historic People’s Building in Rocky Mount, NC exemplifies the type of historic redevelopment project that will benefit from an expanded federal historic tax credit.

One of my wise co-workers recently posited that a commercial district is only as strong as its surrounding neighborhood. While I am not 100 percent sure someone couldn’t come up with an example of a healthy shopping district that draws mostly from neighborhoods other than its own, I absolutely agree with the underlying sentiment that commercial district revitalization and residential rehabilitation go hand-in-hand.

The recent introduction in the U.S. House of Representatives of two key pieces of legislation is designed to address both sides of that coin. These bills would capitalize on historic preservation’s power to create jobs and revitalize the communities where we live, work and yes, shop.

The first bill, the “Creating American Prosperity through Preservation Act,” or CAPP, is co-sponsored by Reps. Aaron Schock (R-IL) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). A major feature of this bill is to make the existing federal historic tax credit more useful to developers of smaller-sized historic rehabilitation projects, typically found in Main Street districts. Historic rehabilitation activity generates more and better-paying jobs than new construction. The changes proposed by this bill will undoubtedly increase the volume of historic tax credit deals done in this country. This is good news for the economy.

Reps. Michael Turner’s (R-OH) and Russ Carnahan’s (D-MO) “Historic Homeownership Revitalization Act (HHRA)” creates a complementary homeowner tax credit that would incentivize the rehabilitation of historic homes and the revitalization of historic neighborhoods. This credit would serve to make it more affordable for homeowners to care for their homes—a definite boon during these difficult economic and real estate market conditions—while helping to maintain the historic integrity of the properties and the vitality of historic neighborhoods.

Family homes, such as the Bennett’s, will benefit from the Historic Homeownership Revitalization Act.

Family homes, such as the Bennett’s, will benefit from the Historic Homeownership Revitalization Act.

Together, the bills promote balanced residential and commercial economic development, and construction activity that creates skilled jobs, in our historic Main Streets and neighborhoods. This legislation will help ensure that our older neighborhoods and commercial districts remain vibrant, relevant thriving centers of modern life that are sustainable, attractive, meaningful places to live, work and do business.

I know what you’re thinking:  new tax credits—in this political climate and federal budget situation? The economics of the federal historic tax credit are clear. Rutgers University data revealed that the credit has attracted $5 of private investment for every $1 of credit paid out by the Treasury. The cumulative, 32-year, $17.5 billion cost of the program is more than offset by the $22.3 billion in federal taxes these projects have generated.The successful track record of similar state tax credit programs makes a compelling case for the passage of a federal historic homeowner tax credit. We hope you’ll agree and help us by calling on your Representative to sign on as a co-sponsor of both bills. Take action now.

More information about the bills, including the newly released Rutgers University report on the Economic Impact of the Federal Historic Tax Credit, a list of endorsing organizations and a sample letter to send your Representative can be found on the PreservationNation website.

Erica Stewart is the outreach coordinator for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Public Affairs department.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

A Spirited Comeback

Posted on: July 8th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 4 Comments


By Charlotte Cottier

Rifino Valentine with his Michigan-made vodka. (Photo: National Trust)

Over the past several years, the visible decline of the Detroit area - from the city itself to the smaller towns that surround it - has caught the nation’s imagination. With image after haunting image of ghostly vacant blocks and countless gloomy editorials, sometimes it seems like the media has already written the region off. However, amidst the rubble of times past, a new breed of locally-minded, dedicated entrepreneurs has decided it’s time to give southeastern Michigan new life. In the city of Ferndale, on the very edge of Detroit, one such businessman has successfully turned an innovative vision into a thriving company with true staying power.

“I’ve always been one of those people who appreciates handmade stuff - appreciates how things are supposed to be made,” says Rifino Valentine, owner of Valentine Distilling Company, “and now I have the chance to be the producer.” Valentine’s story is slightly unconventional; he got his start as a small business owner midway through a big business career as a day trader on Wall Street.

Valentine spent 13 years developing his background in economics and business in New York City during the day, but at night he indulged in a different pursuit entirely: the search for the perfect dirty martini. Somewhere along the line, Valentine’s night-time search started to develop new meaning. “When I would ask for the best vodka that these bars could give me, I was always served an imported product,” he explains.“And I started thinking, why can’t we make the best right here, where we are drinking it? Why can’t we make world-class vodka in the United States?”

It turns out that Valentine was more than curious about this idea; he was committed to making it a reality. In 2005 he left his job in New York and moved back to his home state of Michigan to open up his own artisanal distillery. He decided that he wanted to set up his business in the Detroit area, both to function as an economic stimulus for the area, and also to work the city he loves into his brand. “Detroit gets such a bad rap—it’s the butt of so many jokes—but at the same time people love it and its grittiness,” says Valentine.

The Valentine Distilling Company building in Ferndale. (Photo: National Trust)

When it came time to pick the distillery’s exact location, Ferndale really stood out. “When I was just starting, I called and left a message for the Ferndale city planner just to throw some ideas around about locating there, and she called back within five minutes with a list of potential properties for me,” says Valentine. Cristina Sheppard-Decius, executive director of the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the city’s Great American Main Street Award-winning program, says that the placement of Valentine Distillery in Ferndale grew out of great communication and cooperation between the DDA, the Ferndale Community Development Department (a branch of the city government), and Valentine himself.

Ferndale was incorporated as a city in 1927, and the factory building that Valentine chose for his distillery was built in 1928, so it truly is an original piece of the city’s history. The building’s last use before Valentine moved in was as a high-end, custom pool table manufacturer called “Wolverine Billiards.” Valentine emphasizes this legacy—from handcrafted billiard tables to handcrafted vodka—it’s all within the speakeasy, Detroit-made brand that he has created.

Valentine kept a strong preservation and reuse ethic throughout the entire construction process. “We used reclaimed materials for the renovations: bricks from buildings that have been knocked down in Detroit, old factory windows—and our bar is made out of wooden beams from Michigan barns.” This “keep it local” philosophy extends to Valentine’s supply-chain network; 99 percent of his bottles are Michigan-made, as are his boxes, bottle decorations, t-shirts, and, perhaps most importantly, the grains that are used in the vodka. He explains, “We can’t keep going the way we are- exporting knowledge and importing finished products. Especially in times like these we need to support our own. If one out of every 10 bottles of alcohol … sold in Michigan were actually made here, close to $100 million would stay in the state.”

At Valentine’s recent opening, he spoke about how the distillery’s proximity to Detroit has been an overwhelming positive. “He had such a wonderful story and message. He spoke about how Michigan will make a comeback with entrepreneurs like him,” says Sheppard-Decius, “People that think out of the box and have something new to offer—and we agree.”

Charlotte Cottier in an intern with the National Trust Main Street Center.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Getting Smart About School Siting and Rehabilitation in Georgia

Posted on: June 13th, 2011 by Guest Writer


Written by John Kissane

As seems to be the case elsewhere in the United States, Georgia lacks an exemplary track record of progressive thinking when it comes to siting new schools and making decisions regarding the treatment of older schools. Historic preservation advocates have expressed concerns for historic schools in Georgia for years, but although there have been isolated success stories, the overall picture is not pretty.

Oconee Street School, Athens, Georgia. This c. 1908 building was taken out of service as a school in 1975 and the neighborhood that surrounds it subsequently became transitory, dominated by housing occupied by University of Georgia students. The building currently houses a non-profit agency. (Photo: John Kissane)

When the National Trust for Historic Preservation included Neighborhood Historic Schools on the list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, Alexander II Elementary in Macon, Georgia was chosen to represent all of the endangered schools in the southeast. Renovated in 2002-2003, the school now serves as an example for the region of how older buildings can remain in use and function effectively.

In 2003, the Preserving Georgia’s Historic Schools report from the Georgia State Historic Preservation Office determined that deferred maintenance was the primary threat to the state’s historic school buildings. Why is maintenance being deferred? Money, or lack thereof, is one answer - but that’s only partially correct. Also at play is the often incorrect assumption that new construction is more cost-effective than rehabilitation.

There’s also the fact that certain areas of our state have experienced phenomenal population growth and - until just recently - economic expansion while other parts of the state are struggling to survive. In both area situations, those working to preserve historic school buildings face uphill battles.

Georgia’s “Helping Johnny Walk to School” project began when GeorgiaBikes! (the statewide bike/ped nonprofit) and the Georgia Safe Routes to School State Network received one of the grants made available through the National Trust in its cooperative agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. We established a Steering Committee which started looking at state policies and practices that impacted two things: retaining historic school buildings as schools and siting new schools in locations that allow them to function as community centers rather than isolated outposts.

Our project was fortunate to participate in a survey conducted last summer by David Salvesen of the Center for Sustainable Community Design at UNC-Chapel Hill and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The survey was distributed to school superintendents, school board members, school facility planners and a variety of others, all of whom play some role in the school facility planning process. A total of 204 surveys were completed.

What did the preliminary findings reveal about school closings in Georgia? The number one survey response was that closings happen primarily due to the desire to construct new facilities. The second was that new construction is seen as a money-saving measure over rehabilitation. Ranking third was that reductions in enrollment have pushed school districts to close some of their schools.

We found the following expanded survey response of particular interest:

“While our systems are building new schools, we have turned most of our efforts into rehabilitating and renovating existing facilities with an eye toward greater sustainability. Limited new sites and the price of land have made it more practical to reinvest in existing facilities rather than build new.

However, our state funding program and state guidelines are more conducive to building new schools and are in need of revisions to reflect the need to reuse existing facilities where appropriate."

This type of response suggests that rehabilitation possibilities are being considered and acted upon at the local level, but that state policies are discouraging such action.

David C. Barrow Elementary School, Athens, Georgia. Constructed in 1923, Barrow School is a much-loved neighborhood resource and began the first Safe Routes to School efforts in Athens several years ago. Athens is one Georgia city that has mostly succeeded in maintaining its older school buildings and keeping them in use as schools. (Photo: John Kissane)

As a result of the findings, our recommendations include suggestions that policies such as minimum acreage requirements and minimum school enrollments be eliminated. We also encourage local government participation in school site selection, as well as expanding opportunities for joint use of school facilities. These recommendations constitute the concluding section of a school siting white paper prepared through our project this spring.

To encourage discussion, the Steering Committee encouraged a symposium on the topic of school siting. The Atlanta Regional Commission is now spearheading the planning for a school siting symposium to be held in late September or October of this year.

Planning partners for the symposium include GeorgiaBikes!, the Georgia Conservancy, the Georgia Safe Routes to School Regional Network, Mothers & Others for Clean Air, the Civic League for Metro Atlanta, Dan Drake, a School Planner, and Laura Searcy, a Nurse Practitioner.

This one-day gathering will bring together decision makers, school and local government officials, state agencies, and advocacy groups to learn about factors currently influencing school siting decisions in Georgia. Together, we’ll discuss the ramifications of those decisions and ways to improve school siting practices through local, regional, and state level policies and actions.

Stay tuned…

John Kissane is a consultant to Georgia Bikes! and resident of Athens, Georgia. He cares deeply about the vitality of Georgia’s neighborhoods and believes well sited schools are a critical component.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at

Preservation Round-Up: The Greenest Building Edition

Posted on: June 9th, 2011 by David Garber


The famous Slows Bar-B-Q in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood. (Photo: Flickr user DigDowntownDetroit)

In preservation circles, it’s a story we’ve all heard a million times yet still hasn’t reached the mainstream: restoring existing buildings is one of the greenest ways to build. For all the press that green starchitect skyscrapers get (much of which is actually pretty cool … we need flashes of new every once in a while), historic preservation rarely gets a mention.

But review columns and trades magazines showcase a different reality than most Americans experience. Look around - it’s the older neighborhoods and buildings that are pricier – first choice for those with the most resources. The hot new speakeasies and galleries are typically in old buildings. Exposed brick is still king. When given the option, most people tend to choose a look and a lifestyle that mixes old and new. Trendy and retro go hand in hand. If green is the headline, then why isn’t preservation and adaptation the story?

Certainly it’s up to us to make that change. We know that preservation is sexy. We can preach (too often to the choir) that preservation is green. Here are a few stories that help flip that vision to a wider audience (and a few that just keep us jazzed about preservation in general).

Miller-McCune Magazine published a story titled “Old Buildings Combine Sustainability, Preservation” that gives a little more depth to common “preservation is greenest” cry.

Helping historic preservationists present their case are new studies that calculate what is lost — in measurable environmental terms — when we tear buildings down and replace them with new ones. Plenty of studies have demonstrated the merits of constructing new green buildings, but until recently, there’s been relatively little data available on the economic and environmental benefits of building reuse.

In New York, one preservation story is pretty much all about green, hip, good-looking, and relevant: The High Line Section 2 is Now Open. We’ve pushed High Line stories before, but if you aren’t familiar, it’s a new contemporary park and pathway built atop old elevated railroad tracks on the west side of Manhattan. And dang is it a preservation and adaptation win. The New York Times ran a story about how the opening has changed the neighborhood for the better, and the Inhabitat blog has some great photos of the park’s latest segment.

We’ve all seen photos of Detroit’s abandoned buildings and windswept neighborhoods, but it’s time the Motor City got some good press. The New York Post highlights the Corktown neighborhood in its article “The New Detroit Cool,” and shows off an old side of the city that’s lifting itself up.

Here, you can now see artists working to re-appropriate forgotten spaces as public art. You have urban farmers making productive use of vacant land, taking the idea of eating local to the extreme. You have the city's most talked-about restaurant (an excellent barbecue joint), a record store, a Martiniquais (by way of Paris, Brazil and Brooklyn) making crepes, a cool little vintage boutique, two brothers selling freshly-made bagels out of their apartment, a sustainable food truck and, soon, a speakeasy-style cocktail lounge and a third-wave coffee bar.

(PS – if you haven’t seen these great videos featuring some of the cooler sides of Detroit, they’re definitely a must-see.)

Check out this great op-ed from Dallas – “Not J.R.’s Kind of Town” which tells the story of how one local found a way to restore the old Kessler Theater. With so many old and abandoned theaters across the United States, this is actually a really relevant story for how to give them new life. The key: bring in more uses than just performances.

Oh hey look! In preservationy-but-not-necessarily news, the Chicago Tribune is reporting that the “front porch is enjoying a renewed surge in popularity.”

"It changes the tempo and pace of your life," said Gail Warner, a public relations consultant who bought a house with a front porch in a planned community in Fort Mill, S.C., in 2007. "We're out there in the evening with our porch mayor (pet dog), having a glass of wine and talking to the neighbors. We all have front porches here, which means we all know each other. When a neighbor needs help, we galvanize."

Before moving to Fort Mill, Warner and her husband lived in a porchless town house. "Nine years there, and I never knew my neighbors," said Warner.

A front porch, you say? Couldn’t we all use one of those right about now? Commence mid-day dreaming.

Still don't have your preservation news fix? Check out these other stories that caught our eye:

David Garber is a member of the Digital and New Media team at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Sweet parks, good barbecue, and front porch sittin' sounds really good to him right now. Fightin' the urge.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.


By now, you're probably familiar with scenes of energetic volunteers learning how to hammer, new one-story homes rising up in mere weeks, and first-time homeowners receiving keys. It's all due to the work of Habitat for Humanity, the international nonprofit organization dedicated to building simple, affordable houses for families in need.

A restored Habitat for Humanity home in Newburgh, NY. (Photo: Pepper Watkins)

What you may not know, however, is that some Habitat affiliates are augmenting the traditional 'new build' model with rehabilitations and renovations -- and along the way, doing preservation as well.

Take, for example, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Newburgh. Located 60 miles north of New York City along the Hudson River, this affiliate has acquired dozens of abandoned homes from the City of Newburgh and turned them around with the help of thousands of volunteers. (For the full story, check out their case study featured in the National Trust's Habitat for Humanity Preservation Toolkit.)

This approach not only takes advantage of the city's available housing stock, but it also retains the character and history of the community -- a perfect dovetail to Habitat International's  Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, which expands the organization's products, services, and partnerships to serve more families and better tailor solutions to each community's needs.

Of course, there are a lot of lessons learned along the way, and Newburgh has stockpiled some excellent advice on how to make rehabs work in other communities. In this video, Habitat Newburgh staffers and volunteers share their top tips:

We applaud Habitat for Humanity of Greater Newburgh for their continued dedication to thoughtful rehabilitation, and hope they inspire other affiliates around the country to investigate if rehabs can support their local efforts too.

For more case studies and information, please visit the Habitat for Humanity Preservation Toolkit.

Julia Rocchi is an Online Content Provider for the National Trust's Digital + New Media team. She thinks that the opportunity to film this amazing project was totally worth getting stuck in a snowstorm on the way home.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the director of digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

New Partnerships for West Baltimore's Green Spaces

Posted on: May 25th, 2011 by Guest Writer


Written by Eli Pousson

Residents and advocates walk to West Baltimore's squares. (Photo: Eli Pousson)

The Friends of West Baltimore Squares is a new partnership-driven initiative connecting historic preservation, urban greening and neighborhood revitalization through the celebration of West Baltimore’s unique historic squares and parks. Working as a Partner in the Field promoting neighborhood revitalization in African American communities, I often discover parks, gardens, and vacant lots, some well loved and cared for and others not, just next door or across the street from the historic buildings that we're fighting to save at Baltimore Heritage. The aspirations of gardeners in West Baltimore have much in common with our efforts to reuse buildings - like the Sellers Mansion on the southeast corner of Lafayette Square - and return activity to a neighborhood that struggles with disinvestment and concentrated poverty. The Friends of West Baltimore Squares reflects these common goals of supporting more livable and vital neighborhoods through a partnership between Baltimore Heritage, the Parks & People Foundation, and neighborhood residents around five historic parks to organize events, conduct outreach to residents and visitors, and advocate for the long-term vitality of West Baltimore's parks and neighborhoods.

(Photo: Eli Pousson)

We launched this new effort in February 2011 working with neighborhood leaders in Franklin Square, Harlem Park, Lafayette Square, Perkins Square, and Union Square. These five parks are used by over a dozen West Baltimore neighborhoods which include many more pocket parks and community gardens. While these neighborhoods are distinct and diverse, they also share many common challenges - vacant and abandoned properties, and illegal dumping all come to mind - but also share common assets such as handsome historic rowhouses, generous green space, and the potential for transit-oriented community development around the new Red Line light rail route proposed to connect West & East Baltimore through downtown. We decided to focus initially on organizing public events to engage a broad cross-section of neighborhood residents and begin growing a network of contacts across the area. Our first event, the West Baltimore Squares Spring Walk & Celebration, at the end of April. The walk connected over 60 residents from the area to four of the major squares, and ended with a community BBQ at Lafayette Square.

(Photo: Eli Pousson)

We're promoting our programs through neighborhood meetings, a growing e-mail list, as well as Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr. This range of outreach efforts is essential to connect with the many young people and families who often do not participate in neighborhood organizations and also offers an opportunity to recognize the neighborhoods many real assets like the new Harlem Park School Community Garden. We're launching a new tour program in early June at the West Baltimore Farmer's Market that mixes interpretation of the area's Civil War history in the 1860s, struggles with urban renewal in the 1960s, and innovative new approaches to urban forestry and sustainable stormwater management.

This is a new effort for Baltimore Heritage and we are excited about the opportunities to reach out and engage, not only with people who love old buildings but also with those who are working hard to create more sustainable historic neighborhoods through supporting parks and gardens. Through building up community around a shared commitment to sustainable and unique historic neighborhoods and connecting our efforts to the transit-oriented development, we see a bright future for the residents and neighborhoods around West Baltimore Squares.

Check out this slideshow for many more photos of our Baltimore Squares Spring Walk & Celebration!

Eli Pousson is a field officer with Baltimore Heritage, in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at