When working on a historic building, developers, contractors, and architects have to consider many more factors than they normally do. For instance, they have to ensure that they meet all of the building permit requirements as well as anything that is required by the historical societies that oversee that particular building.
As it pertains to the federal government, the National Register of Historic Places is a section of the National Park Service. Many homes and buildings are listed on this register, and their owners can modify them without consulting the organization as long as federal money is not attached to them. However, before making any adjustments, the property owner does need to check with their state’s historic preservation office (SHPO). This organization will be able to tell the project manager or the building owner whether or not there are any state laws that pertain to that particular property.
Once the project manager has taken those steps, he or she will have to see if their project will be affected by any other state or municipal regulations. For instance, Californians will have to look at how CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) applies to their project. In most cases, CEQA is only relevant to projects that involve the demolition or destruction of historic buildings or refurbishments that would affect the historic significance of the building. Project managers can also find out about how CEQA affects them when they contact their SHPO. In other states, the project may be eligible for a tax credit. Utah, for instance, awards a 20 percent tax credit for the rehabilitation of residential historic properties.
A portion of the historic downtown in Rapid City, South Dakota recently underwent renovation. One hundred years ago, this downtown street was a bustling center of the old west. Full of cowboys, sharp shooters, and poker players, this street was hopping. Because the state’s largest industry is tourism, state officials and residents strive whenever possible to preserve the historic integrity of these areas. In order to ensure that their projects were up to code, project managers had to get approval from the South Dakota Historical Society and Rapid City’s Historic Preservation Commission. These organizations ensured that the project met the right building permit requirements and that it met the requirements set by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
However, in addition to the challenges posed by these projects, they also offer great creative opportunities, and the most creative projects often win prestigious awards. The Harding Shelton building in the historic Bricktown area of Oklahoma recently underwent award-winning remodeling. The Denver architecture firm, Venture Architecture, was responsible for the designs and plans that helped this building win the 2011 AGC Build Oklahoma Award. Many historic projects have the opportunity to win local or state awards like this one.
In addition to local awards, there are national awards as well. The 2011 National Trust/HUD Award was awarded to the Minvilla Town Homes in Knoxville, Tennessee. These town homes were built in the early 20th century, and they were home to some of the city’s most sophisticated members of the growing middle class. However, the area eventually became a magnet for crime, and by the middle of that century, the building was a crime ridden hotel. In 2002, the building was condemned by the city. However, a social services agency purchased it, saved it, and made it an integral part of the city’s ten-year plan to eliminate homelessness. Now, Minvilla Manor consists of fifty-seven units. They all meet Energy Star standards and they serve as housing for people who have recently been homeless. Of course, the building’s design is consistent with its rich history, and many of its best elements were preserved.
When a developer opts to tackle the unique task of remodeling a historic building, they also take on a huge number of challenges. As stated above, they must research all of the relevant building permit requirements, as well as the historic requirements. Any questions that developers have can be answered by a team of professionals like the ones at Burnham who have extensive experience working with the National Historic Register and state preservation organizations. Although the requirements are many, most developers will discover that the creative rewards offered by these projects are compelling and immense.