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CITY TALK: Study details economic benefits of preservation

  • You can buy your copy of “Beyond Tourism” through HSF at www.myhsf.org

The Historic Savannah Foundation recently released “Beyond Tourism,” a 60-page study about the impact of historic preservation on our economy and quality of life.

You can buy your copy of “Beyond Tourism” through HSF at www.myhsf.org. You might also want to check out Eric Curl’s coverage of the study at savannahnow.com.

“Beyond Tourism” is a good read, especially for those who like hard numbers and bar graphs along the way.

Here’s the subtitle: “Historic Preservation in the Economy and Life of Savannah and Chatham County.” That’s probably a better reflection of the contents than the title, but it’s still worth lingering a moment over the phrase “Beyond Tourism.”

The report argues that historic preservation has many measurable economic benefits other than luring visitors. That’s a tame enough proposition, but it might be interesting to see a similarly detailed study that explores more of the tension between tourism and other economic sectors.

“Beyond Tourism” was written by Donovan Rypkema and Briana Paxton with the Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm PlaceEconomics. They called upon data from a wide array of organizations, agencies and other sources.

Here’s a passage from the report’s conclusions: “The impact of heritage tourism in Savannah and Chatham County captures the headlines and is certainly important and widely recognized. But the impact of historic preservation on the everyday lives of its citizens is less understood and perhaps even more profound. General James Edward Oglethorpe laid the foundations for the Savannah of the 21st century.”

We’ve touched upon this theme often over the years here at City Talk. The Oglethorpe Plan isn’t just some stray remnant of history — it’s not some curious relic in the chronicles of urban planning.

The key features of Savannah’s oldest neighborhoods — the mixed uses, the narrow lot widths, the relatively high residential density, the frequent streets, the public spaces — are also features that align with the quality of life desired by so many young Americans today.

“Beyond Tourism” makes special note of the work of the HSF’s revolving fund, which has had a “catalytic impact” on private investment. (The organization’s revolving fund allows it to purchase historic but endangered properties and resell them to people or organizations with credible restoration plans.)

There are some excellent maps that accompany the discussion of the revolving fund. Through the 1970s, the HSF focused its energy in the Landmark Historic District, but in recent decades there has been an emphasis on properties farther south, especially in Thomas Square and the Victorian District.

It’s worth adding, however, that the HSF has continued to use the revolving fund in the Landmark district in the 21st century.

The report also notes the impressive preservation efforts of the Savannah College of Art and Design. Since 1999, SCAD has tackled over a dozen major rehabilitation and preservation projects.

The analysis for “Beyond Tourism” showed that the changes in property values around SCAD projects outpaced the citywide changes.

Savannah’s historic districts comprise just 8 percent of the city’s land area, although that number would be higher if the city had not annexed so much land to the west. Still, those historic districts hold 16 percent of Savannah’s population and 24 percent of the taxable value, according to the study.

“Beyond Tourism” chronicles the dramatic increase in construction activity in historic districts since 2007, with more than half the spending on new structures. I’d love to see the numbers broken down a bit more, however, so we would know how much of that money was spent on hotel versus residential construction.

Savannah’s historic districts are also home to a disproportionate share of the city’s jobs, especially ones with knowledge-based businesses, startups and other small firms.

Property values in historic districts have outperformed the city as a whole, and, interestingly, those districts had markedly lower foreclosure rates between 2008 and 2014 than the rest of the city.

One of the most interesting sections of “Beyond Tourism” discusses the positive effects of residential density at a “human scale” and other quality of life issues, such as walkability and bikeability.

As I said above, “Beyond Tourism” is well worth a read.

 

City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, GA 31401.

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For more information

• savannahnow.com/news/2015-05-23/savannah-preservation-study-touts-greater-better-quality-life-stronger-economies)

www.myhsf.org

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