Can you put a price on historic preservation?
Columbia, MO, has – and it’s an attention-getting $1 billion. In what it’s called a first-of-its-kind study sponsored by a local municipality, the Columbia Historic Preservation Commission says preservation programs for the city’s historic buildings accounted for $1 billion in economic activity and thousands of jobs over the last 10 years.
The commission’s study, funded in part by a Missouri Department of Natural Resources Historic Preservation Office grant, found private developers had invested more than $88 million in projects that qualified for state-issued historic preservation tax credits, creating 950 jobs.
The payback for historic preservation is important as communities look to incorporate adaptive re-use into their downtown revitalization efforts and preserve the architectural heritage of their center cities.
In Columbia’s case, the study notes the economic “ripple effect” from preservation efforts ranging from construction to heritage tourism to increased downtown property values to historic building preservation by local colleges, institutions and governments.
Not everyone is buying the multipliers the study promotes. An article on the public policy Show-Me Institute website is skeptical of the “dark art” of multipliers the study notes and adds that state figures show historic preservation credits return 23 cents for each dollar the state spends and ”are often used on dubious projects of little or no public use.”
Of course, one person’s dubious project is another person’s signature development. While $1 billion in economic activity might be a tad, uh, generous, more than $88 million in private development and 950 jobs are significant numbers and demonstrate real and meaningful success.
Speaking of ROI, Sarah Goodyear of The Atlantic Cities provides good insight on how making a true economic case for quality of place can trump many other more abstract and aestehtic arguments that often surface in livability discussions.
Goodyear details the work urban design researcher and consultant Mariela Alfonzo has done to create and refine her State of Place hard-data tool to quantify in economic terms what makes a place appeal to pedestrians and help create more “walkable” development.
The tool includes measures for walkability and quality of place, but also acts as “an economic indicator,” says Alfonzo, that developers, lenders, retailers and others can use to make investment and siting decisions.
As Goodyear puts it: “She’s come to understand that if she’s going to get decision-makers to pay attention to making better, more humane places, appealing to them from a business perspective is the only way to go.”
What’s your take? How do you demonstrate clear ROI for downtown restoration projects and livability components? And are the business considerations the only considerations? Share your thoughts.