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Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

Fri, 05/16/2014 - 10:59

Pres Fest shows how well preservation and progress play together.


P.J. O’Connor House

Clea Hernandez contemplates the economics of preservation.

Savannah’s got a dynamite beauty secret. Since 1955, Historic Savannah Foundation and the private patrons topping off its Revolving Fund have helped save and restore more than 360 historically significant buildings throughout Georgia’s First City.

Today, visitors can’t get enough of the nostalgic flair that makes our city peerless. Historic pride is a balm for our community—and it’s turning out to be an economic boon.

Historic Savannah Foundation’s Savannah Preservation Festival, held May 8-10, affirmed President and CEO Daniel Carey’s testament that the HSF is “as much a planning organization as a preservation organization.”

This third annual festival offered a free lecture and panel discussion on preservation economics, a tour of the awe-inspiring historic rehabilitations done by SCAD, and a tour highlighting HSF’s nationally recognized Revolving Fund projects.


The kickoff lecture posited historic preservation as a vehicle for economic development. Keynote Speaker Donovan Rypkema is principal of Washington D.C.-based real estate and economic development consulting firm PlaceEconomics and a professor of preservation economics at the University of Pennsylvania. Becky Wade, Director of Community Development for the City of Knoxville, Tenn. enlightened the gathering with the story of her city’s rehabilitation successes. And, commercial/retail developer Ben Carter revealed his plans to bring fresh commerce to Broughton Street with stores like H&M and Sephora, while also attending the corridor’s historic integrity.

The panelists hammered down a list of preservation’s benefits with statistical and experiential proof—proof of how preservation creates jobs, raises property values, promotes tourism, exerts less impact on the environment than new builds, improves the socio-economic fabric of communities and encourages economic competitiveness.

“I wanted to show different perspectives,” says Carey. “There’s Don, with a macro, bird’s-eye view of the economics of preservation. There’s Becky, who brings the governmental regulatory and proactive perspective. And we have Ben Carter’s perspective of a private real estate developer who is on the ground in Savannah, working through the process before our eyes.

“But the ultimate goal,” Carey continues, “was to send a message to our City Council about creative ways to stem the tide of blight together; preservation is a good tool but it can’t do everything. Becky gave us that practical insight into how we can proactively stem blight through government involvement, and that blight isn’t just limited to neighborhoods, it affects our commercial areas as well.”

Preservation in Action

The HSF’s Revolving Fund has its own tale to tell America about how a city’s heritage spreads beyond its landmark district into neglected neighborhoods. In Cuyler-Brownville and Thomas Square, rich historic heritage is beginning to show through boarded windows, peeling paint, and fallen tiles as HSF works in lock-step with the communities.

You can see progress everywhere you look, particularly in SCAD historic preservation professor Jim Abraham’s historically sensitive restoration of the stately P. J. O’Connor House on Lincoln and 32nd Streets. “Just as important as the structure of the house is the life that went on inside,” said Abraham of his new home. As each long-overlooked detail reveals itself to Abraham during the restoration process, another piece of the structure’s storied past comes back to life.

As the revitalized P. J. O’Connor house takes its place as the dazzling cornerstone of HSF’s Lincoln Street initiative, the city and country will look on as Rypkema spearheads a 6-month study of the economic impacts of Savannah’s historic preservation efforts. And, according to Ben Carter, March 1, 2015, will mark the commercial rebirth for Broughton Street.



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