Revitalization

Up and Coming in Downcity: Historic Rehabilitation and the Arts Converge in Providence

Posted on: September 28th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Erica Stewart

The third installment in the ongoing series of blog posts on the National Trust Community Investment Corporation and its decade of new markets and historic tax credit investing takes us to Providence, Rhode Island. NTCIC has invested nearly $14 million in two historic real estate projects by nonprofit developer AS220 that created artist live/work space out of abandoned commercial buildings. Not only have these projects created affordable housing and artist exhibit space that reinforces the city’s commitment to being a “Creative Capital,” but they return vacant historic properties to use, for the economic and aesthetic benefit of the city and its residents.

If you’ve spent any time in downtown Providence as an area resident or visitor, you know there’s much more to the Rhode Island capital than its former mayor whose federal racketeering charge landed him in federal prison for four years. In fact, a visit to Providence, especially its Downcity district, reveals why it is the envy of many big cities, with its nucleus of rehabbed historic commercial buildings, an inviting river front (that hosts the exquisite “WaterFire” performance) and interesting theaters, restaurants and retail. Providence also boasts the largest number of working artists in the country, reflected in its colorful mix of galleries, theaters and museums.

And thanks to the vision and commitment of AS220, a number of these artists now enjoy two economical and inspirational places to live, work and collaborate: the newly rehabbed Mercantile Building and The Dreyfus—both in the heart of downtown Providence’s high-rent district.

The Dreyfus

The Dreyfus interior before restoration.

The Dreyfus interior before restoration.

The Dreyfus was built in the late 1890s as a small hotel, frequented mostly by salesmen arriving at the nearby train station in downtown Providence. In later years, its French restaurant became a favorite for theater goers as the area became known as the city’s theater district (the basement speakeasy was quite popular for different reasons during Prohibition). The property was enlarged in 1917, the hotel closed in the 60s, and then Johnson & Wales operated it as a dormitory from 1975 to 1999. The Dreyfus remained vacant for several years after that while advocates considered an appropriate reuse. In 2005, it was acquired by the well-respected arts nonprofit organization AS220, whose $7.5 million historic rehabilitation created 14 artists’ lofts, 10 work studios, and ground-floor restaurant and retail space. Three of the lofts are market-rate, and the rest of the space is available below-market to facilitate AS220’s goal of building community in downtown Providence through affordable space for artists to live, work, and operate businesses.

The Dreyfus interior after restoration.

The Dreyfus interior after restoration.

The project team was delighted to find much of the hotel’s classic interior covered up, but largely intact. The highly decorative wood paneling and coffered ceilings in the ground floor bar and dining room are considered to be among the finest intact historic commercial interiors in Providence. The magnificent terracotta that adorns the exterior of the building, along with the stunning stained glass windows on the first floor, was painstakingly restored. The loft apartments and studio spaces boast original wood floors, stairway balustrades, moldings and wainscoting.

The Dreyfus re-opened in May 2007, featuring a new restaurant that highlights local ingredients, AS220’s printmaking shop, and studios and lofts for an eclectic mix of artists. The first tenants included painters, photographers, a playwright, a printer, a DJ, a jeweler, a pastry-artist and even a hot-air-balloon maker. Despite their diverse callings in life, you can be sure after one look at their exquisitely-renovated homes, they all share a passion for historic preservation.

Mercantile Building

The Merchantile Building.

The Merchantile Building.

The Mercantile Building, immediately next door to the Dreyfus, follows in a very similar vein. AS220 began its $16.9 million rehabilitation in 2008 to create retail and office space, a restaurant, 22 housing units, and artists’ studios in the 40,000 square-foot, former commercial building. The rehab, in addition to retaining important historic details, is also incorporating many sustainable design elements, including: natural daylighting, low-consumption plumbing fixtures, a reflective roof membrane and recycled building materials.

Tenants will include the Fab Lab, a computer fabrication and technology collaboration between AS220 and MIT, a public silkscreen shop and other retail spaces that provide opportunities to create, display and sell artwork. College Visions, a program that helps disadvantaged youths apply to college, is also set to occupy space. Two longtime Mercantile tenants - a locksmith and a bar - will be continuing their occupancy in the building, in new and very improved spaces. The residences are scheduled to open October 1.

A significant impact of this project, in addition to the estimated 150 construction jobs and 129 permanent jobs generated by the rehab, is its contribution to the revitalization of Martha Street, which abuts the building on one side. Once regarded a back alley fit only for the stable found there, it is being transformed into a vibrant pedestrian way, greatly enhancing neighborhood safety and vitality.

The resulting body of work is an artful illustration of how artistic creativity, innovation and historic preservation can combine to effect the revitalization of a community without losing its soul in the process.

Erica Stewart is the outreach coordinator for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s community revitalization 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.

Change is Brewing in Baltimore

Posted on: September 10th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Written by Erica Stewart

Baltimore's American Brewery building. (Photo: Paul Burk)

Baltimore's American Brewery building. (Photo: Paul Burk)

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.

One of the completed interior spaces in the American Brewery building. (Photo: Paul Burk)

One of the completed interior spaces in the American Brewery building. (Photo: Paul Burk)

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.

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.

Investing in New Orleans' Past Brightens its Present – and Future

Posted on: September 3rd, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Erica Stewart

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the National Trust’s historic tax credit equity investing business: an endeavor that has brought more than $330 million to the rehabilitation of 60+ commercial buildings nationwide.  Support from the National Trust Community Investment Corporation (NTCIC) has helped revive vacant and abandoned structures that were once lively vaudeville theaters, bustling department stores, revered office buildings, and various others: a Masonic Temple, a brewery, a gas station, a jail, to name a few.

In celebration of the 10th anniversary milestone, PreservationNation will be featuring ten adaptive use projects financed in part by NTCIC. You may be surprised to learn of the amazing transformations that are happening across the county—even in these challenging economic times. They are a testament to the creativity and imagination of the human spirit, the durability of historic buildings, and the strong economic benefit of preserving them. You may even recognize one from a favorite city street near you.

In honor of another anniversary—but hardly grounds for celebration—our first project spotlight takes us to Louisiana five years after Hurricane Katrina. This is a place where, thanks in part to additional federal incentives, NTCIC has invested $60 million in $117 million worth of historic rehabilitation projects that are bringing life and economic development back to the storm-battered areas.  These range from a former furniture showroom conversion into a dynamic community center currently ongoing in New Orleans’ gritty Bywater (a project covered here) to the elegant remodel of the bedraggled Hotel Pontchartrain in the fashionable Lower Garden District.

The Pontchartrain Hotel

The Pontchartrain Hotel in New Orleans’ Lower Garden District.

The Pontchartrain Hotel in New Orleans’ Lower Garden District.

The Pontchartrain Hotel stands 14 stories above St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans’ Lower Garden district and was the tallest building in the city when it was constructed in 1927.  Its history is a mostly glorious one, as its lush furnishings and one-of-a-kind antiques represented the epitome of luxury travel. Stars such as Richard Burton and Mary Martin stayed there when they came to town, and both had suites named after them. Many prominent New Orleanians such as Edith Stern, the Sears and Roebuck heiress, and Frankie Besthoff, whose family co-founded the K&B drugstore chain, called it home.

"In its heyday, it was considered one of the very best hotels in the country," said Honore Aschaffenburg, grandson of the hotel's founder. "It evoked some of the best qualities of New Orleans -- the wonderful, gregarious nature of the people who live here and how they enjoy entertaining and interacting with one another."

Its beloved high-end restaurant, the Caribbean Room, was equally popular among celebrities—Walt Disney, Ginger Rogers and Tennessee Williams to name a few—and for its extravagant dessert, a gravity-defying combination of ice cream and meringue known as the “mile-high pie.”

The lobby of the restored Pontchartrain Hotel.

The lobby of the restored Pontchartrain Hotel.

The Pontchartrain lost some of its luster in the latter part of the 20th century, as the number of hotels downtown and in the French Quarter expanded. Hurricane Katrina’s rage delivered only a glancing blow in 2005, but the ensuing dampness, utility outages, and vandalism caused extensive interior deterioration. The building closed in 2007 while new building owners David Burrus and George Newton III mounted a campaign to save the Pontchartrain from destruction. In 2008 they launched a $21 million historic rehabilitation effort that converted the property into a grand 84-unit senior housing facility.

The Pontchartrain made its triumphant return to New Orleans’ high society in the summer of 2009. Its former guest rooms have been enlarged and configured to serve as both independent and assisted-living apartments for seniors. The Caribbean Room is back, but reserved for residents only, while its other cherished watering hole, the Bayou Bar, is welcoming patrons new and old alike to step back into the days of Frank Sinatra and gas-powered chandeliers.

In addition to a cognac-flavored taste of the past, the Pontchartrain Hotel rehabilitation is delivering significant economic benefit to the revitalization of New Orleans as well. The project is estimated to generate 387 jobs, $1.1 million in state and local taxes and $11.6 million in household and business income. Now, I’ll drink to that.

Erica Stewart is the outreach coordinator for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s community revitalization 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.

 

Written by Erica Stewart

Sometimes -  no, most of the time - I'm very proud to call myself a preservationist. Never more so than when historic preservation is utilized to achieve sustainability on economic, environmental and socio-cultural levels. What do I mean by that? By way of illustration, let me introduce, or re-introduce you, to the recently completed historic rehabilitation of the McCormick-Goodhart Mansion in the DC suburb of Langley Park, Maryland (long-time readers will recall our previous dispatches on the project's progress).

As a DC resident, I know Langley Park mostly for its plethora of strip mall ethnic eateries, thrift stores and harrowing lanes of cross-county commuter traffic that are a pedestrian's nightmare. But thanks to a staff outing to the construction site more than a year ago, I ventured off the highway and into the neighborhoods, where I came to appreciate the incredible diversity of its residents—many of them newly arrived immigrants from Africa, Asia and Latin America—and the importance of the Georgian-Revival mansion to Casa de Maryland's mission of helping them get on their feet.

The $13.8 million rehabilitation by nonprofit organization, Casa de Maryland rescues a badly damaged, formerly vacant historic property into a modernized and bustling Multicultural Center that brings jobs and associated economic activity to low-income census tract. Casa de Maryland used historic tax credits, with the help of tax credit broker, National Trust Community Investment Corporation, to help finance the project, ensuring that the historic character of the 1924 mansion would be preserved. This included painstaking restoration of handcrafted plaster ceiling ornamentation, the lobby's parquet floor and its extensive wood paneling. We know that historic rehab creates more jobs than new construction, especially labor-intensive restoration, so we can be sure this project's materials and its workforce were important contributors to the county's economy—as are the employees that now work in the building, and patronize neighborhood restaurants, copy shops, florists and dry cleaning.

The design by architect Ward Bucher of the Bucher/Borges Group also incorporated green building technologies, thus enhancing the inherent environmental sustainability of recycling an existing building on a viable site that is close to public transportation, schools, jobs and housing.  These technologies include green roofs, geothermal heating and cooling systems, operable storm windows and energy and water conservation measures. Paperwork will be submitted for LEED Gold certification.

Apart from a recent lightening storm that fried some fuses, Mr. Bucher reports that the building's geothermal system—which drills deep into the ground to access cool air, or to dump hot air, is functioning well—maybe even too well. Some of the building's smaller-sized rooms have been a bit chilly. Bucher is also very pleased with the green roof design, which features compartments roughly 2 feet by 3 feet that hold oversized plastic egg crates which in turn hold the plants. This allows for easy access to the rubber roof should a leak be detected.

The social and cultural sustainability of the project is evident in the social services provided by the building's main tenant, Casa de Maryland, and the fact that the converted mansion provides them and other like-minded organizations an attractive, inspiring, and well-equipped headquarters that is situated squarely in the midst of the community that needs their assistance. The mansion was once part of a 565-acre estate; now it is surrounded by garden-style, low-income apartment buildings.

But don't take my word for it. The photos below speak volumes about the triumph achieved by the Casa de Maryland and its project team. Bravo!

Erica Stewart is the outreach coordinator for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s community revitalization 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.

St. Louis Developers Using Tax Credits to Fill the "Hole in the Donut"

Posted on: June 11th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Erica Stewart

The Laurel, as it looks today.

The Laurel, as it looks today.

To read the papers today (yes, thank you, I still do), with their dire news about climbing unemployment, paltry job growth and dry capital markets,  there are plenty of reasons to think an adaptive use project like The Laurel could never happen in today's economy. Yet it is. And given its eye-popping economic impact numbers, St. Louis can't really afford for it not to.

The 660,000 square foot property—formerly known as the Stix Baer and Fuller, then the Grand Leader, and later still, Dillard's—housed a series of department stores from the time it was originally built in 1906. It anchored the east end of Washington Avenue's retail district, which was, for the first several decades of the 20th century, one of the largest and most vibrant retail districts in the country.  But as retail and residences flocked to the suburbs, the property withered along with the rest of downtown.  It was one of the largest vacant properties in the central business district, and given its location next to the St. Louis Convention Center and the Edwards Jones Dome, was a vexing, highly visible, eyesore.

The story of how the old Dillard's building in downtown St. Louis began its $162 million transformation into a 212-suite hotel, 205 residential units and 32,000 square feet of ground-floor retail,  is a story of tax credits—specifically the federal historic tax credit, the Missouri state historic tax credit and the New Markets Tax Credit.

Without going into mind-crushing detail, a quick and dirty on what we're talking about here:

The federal historic tax credit, enacted in 1976, has been instrumental in catalyzing historic real estate development, economic growth, and job creation in all 50 states. (See this recent report by Rutgers University for complete statistical information.)  It operates as a dollar-for-dollar reduction in taxes owed, and can be earned if the rehabilitation of a designated historic building conforms to a set of standards defined by the Secretary of the Interior.  The credit is equal to 20% of the qualifying rehabilitation costs of the project.

The Missouri state tax credit equals 25% of qualifying rehab expenses and has been very effective in attracting private investment in the state's historic resources. The credit was widely regarded as a model policy, until this year when legislators capped the credit, meaning the state Treasury has an annual limit on its payout.  (Shout-out to Missourians: please tell your elected state officials what a poor decision that was. See below for ample evidence on the importance of state historic tax credits.)

The New Market Tax Credit is notoriously complicated, but the upshot is that this 39% tax credit is available to investors who provide capital to Community Development Entities (special entities) that have been allocated New Markets Tax Credits (such as NTCIC, the Trust's for profit subsidiary), which in turn invest that capital in qualifying low income businesses located in low-income census tracts.

Phew!  Are you with me? The larger message to take home here is that if a historic rehabilitation project is considered a qualifying low income business, and that if say, US Bank provides capital to NTCIC for its investment in a historic rehab located in low-income census tract, US Bank receives an additional return on its investment, which spurs it to make a larger initial contribution of funds. The equity boost is a significant additional source of funds for the project, and helps offset the more difficult economics associated with developing historic properties in low-income areas.

... Read More →

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.