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The economic benefits of historic preservation

In November, Savannah will host the 2014 National Preservation Conference (Nov. 11-14 at the International Conference Center). This is the annual conference of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The Historic Savannah Foundation and Savannah College of Art and Design are the lead local sponsors.

To preview economic aspects of preservation, the Historic Savannah Foundation held an evening seminar at SCAD in May with Donovan Rypkema of Place Economics (placeeconomics.com) as its keynote speaker.

The foundation has engaged Rypkema to study economic impacts of preservation in Savannah. His findings will be presented at the conference.

In May, Rypkema summarized research done in other communities on social and economic benefits of preservation. He organized his presentation in seven areas: jobs, property values, heritage tourism, environmental impact, social impacts, downtown revitalization and economic competitiveness.

Jobs

The federal historic tax credit program invested $19.2 billion through 2011 and created 2.2 million jobs. This cost per job ($8,868) is extremely low compared to other government programs. The federal stimulus spending, for example, cost us about $244,000 per job created or saved.

Another study found that $1 million in preservation spending created 18.1 jobs while traditional construction created only 14.9 jobs per million spent.

Property Values

In Dubuque, Iowa, homes in the historic district increased in value by 51 percent from 2001-06 while neighboring communities experienced only a 10 percent increase and the average for the city was 5 percent.

In Louisville, Ky., houses in their historic district appreciated 21 percent from 2000 to 2007 more than those in the rest of the city. Similar enhanced appreciation was found for houses in Philadelphia’s historic district.

Heritage tourism

Research found that heritage tourists stay longer and spend more per day than traditional tourists. Substantially more people visited historic districts than went to amusement parks, beaches and golf courses.

In Georgia, heritage tourists spent $6.147 billion in 2010, creating 117,000 jobs and generating $262 million tax revenue.

Environmental impact

Preservation projects save 50 percent to 80 percent in infrastructure costs compared to suburban development. Building re-use almost always offers environmental savings compared to demolition and new construction.

Social impacts

In Rhode Island, affordable housing units were created through historic preservation. Other states have found preservation to be the most effective way to attract new funding to low income census districts.

Downtown revitalization

The Main Street Program of the National Trust over 31 years created 109,000 businesses in our downtowns, including 473,000 jobs at a low cost per job of $2,394. As a result, the ratio of downtown business openings to closings increased significantly.

Another study found that downtowns experienced increased pedestrian flow, longer visitor stays and less automobile noise and pollution.

Economic competitiveness

Historic preservation contributes to the urban ambiance that young professions desire. Firms move to places where their key employees and managers want to live.

None of this means every preservation project or preservationist challenge to new development should be supported. The devil and the hard work are in the details.

This does mean that preservation work must be appreciated; the results are more than a cute or quaint district.

Sadly, not one city or county leader attended the Historic Savannah Foundation seminar at SCAD. Hopefully, they will attend the November conference and learn from Rypkema’s report on specific benefits in Savannah.

Details about the November conference are available at www.myhsf.org.

Kenneth Zapp is a professor emeritus at Metropolitan State University and a mentor for SCORE Savannah. Contact him at Kenneth.Zapp@metrostate.edu.

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