The business case for historic preservation

The nonprofit organization Greater Portland Landmarks released its second annual Places in Peril list today in a news conference at their headquarters on the corner of High and Spring streets.

The 1830 Western Cemetery, one of Greater Portland Landmarks’ 2013 Places in Peril (Courtesy GPL)

I wrote about the list in a story posted here.

At that news conference, Landmarks trustee and Boulos Company real estate broker Nate Stevens delivered some interesting perspective on the topic. In a nutshell, Stevens said preserving and restoring deteriorating historic properties makes good business sense.

Oftentimes, projects like that are thought of as strictly feel-good efforts, done at a financial loss. And I think many times those projects do cost more overall than construction of a new building would, although state and federal tax credits are available to help developers reduce the burden (I wrote about those benefits in a more comprehensive way here).

In terms of the business community at large, however, Stevens said historic preservation has a much more straightforward benefit. He said it’s a significant business attraction. He said frequently deals with companies searching very specifically for new home communities with historic environs, if not for historic buildings themselves.

Said Stevens in a prepared statement:

From my perspective, I think people live in this city, relocate their businesses here, and visit because of the historic fabric. I have had CEOs and other business leaders tell me that they locate to Portland because it’s identifiable. Without our historic buildings, we could be any other city in the country. Our historic architecture defines this town.

A little more off-the-cuff, Stevens at the news conference talked about what appeals to business types about the prospects of moving into renovated old buildings, like the law firm Pierce Atwood famously did with the old Cumberland Cold Storage building or the advertising firm VIA and Maine College of Art have respectively done with the former Baxter Library.

“They want the character, they want the exposed brick, the exposed beams, the conversation starters,” Stevens said. “They believe [the environment] breeds creativity and innovation.”

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Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.