Confessions of a History Buff

3 min read

I love history. I am the kind of guy that makes long detours to visit minor historic landmarks. You have probably cursed at me from your car because I slow down traffic to better read the historic markers on the side of country roads. I want to know if George Washington slept here! Our shared history provides context for present circumstances and informs our goals and methods for the future. I enjoy history in text and documentary film, but it really comes alive in a constructed environment where you can literally touch, feel and smell it.

The past is important, and by living in, working at or simply moving through  historic buildings you too view the world through a slightly different lens. There is  incredible satisfaction in seeing a vacant, underutilized or deteriorating building restored to beauty and productivity. This satisfaction is buoyed by the associated jobs created from the construction and operations of the historic building. Historic preservation unlocks economic value and increases local tax base. When we are at our best, historic preservation can be a catalyst that brings new development into disinvested neighborhoods.

Historic preservation requires creativity. Ingenuity and vision of design are necessary in rethinking and repurposing a space for a new use in a new era. Financial acumen and innovation is critical to deal structure and juggling the various tax credits and incentives necessary to get to the closing table.

And let’s not forget that historic preservation is, in and of itself, inherently sustainable. While these buildings are old, historic rehabilitation practitioners are increasingly embracing new sustainable building and the energy generations technologies to do more than just preserve, such as making these properties high performance buildings.

There is much to love about historic preservation, and much more to do. The upfront costs of preservation are high so incentives, most notably the Historic Tax Credit, are necessary to finance acquisition and development. While support grows in Congress for the CAPP Act, important legislation that would improve and expand the Federal Historic Tax Credit, more advocacy efforts will be required to get to the finish line. Additionally, countless local markets would be served by the creation or expansion of state credits.

While the National Park Service has taken strides to provide guidance on “green” historic preservation, I believe the agency could be more proactive and creative in administration of the program to embrace an array of issues ranging from expanding the use of renewable energy technology to the development of a practical window replacement standard for functional obsolete fenestration.

These challenges have solutions and deserve attention. Successful historic preservation is a portal into the past, creates economic gain far in excess of its costs, and endures for generations to come.