By SUSAN TOBIAS
---- — KEESEVILLE — The empty storefronts of small-town America are a statement on present economic trends, and they exist on almost every Main Street.
Added to the first-floor commercial emptiness is the former living space above, evidenced by windows without curtains, rooms without life.
This condition, which has crept into rural America over the past few decades, was the topic of a workshop held recently by Adirondack Architectural Heritage, the Preservation League of New York State, the State Office of Historic Preservation, Empire State Development Corp. and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation.
“Enhancing Main Street: Making Upper Floors Work Again,” held at the renovated AuSable Valley Grange in Keeseville, featured several professionals in different fields who shared experience and information on the problem. Topics included how to apply for rehabilitation tax credits, make preservation and the building code work together and find funding sources for redevelopment.
The workshop targeted both commercial adventures and private ownership.
“There are several reasons to look at preservation rehabilitation,” said Sloane Bullough, Historic Preservation Program analyst with the State Office of Historic Preservation. “The craftsmanship of the old buildings is wonderful. There is a sense of place with them, a connection to the past. They are important.”
She went on to explain that there are tax credits for preservation work on both federal and state levels, but some of these will end in 2014. Anyone planning to apply should do so quickly.
Bullough encouraged attendees not to be turned away by what seems to be a complex process. With help from her office and others, it is attainable, she said.
‘DON’T FEAR REGISTER’
Erin Tobin of the Preservation League of New York State encouraged municipalities to apply to create historic districts, noting that the North Country is full of historic buildings, both commercial and private homes.
“A lot of people fear a historic district or being placed on the Historic Register,” she said. “They think they can’t do what they want or need to do, but that’s not necessarily so.”
She explained that if the owner is using grant money, which is public funds, it’s up to the governing agency to protect that investment and see that the grant is used properly.
“If your building is on the Historic Register and there are no local codes against a certain project, you can paint pink polkadots on your building and build an addition,” she said. “These are not encumbered in any way by federal or state regulations.”
KEEP SAFETY IN MIND
Joe Fama, executive director for the Troy Architectural Program, explained that building codes are in place for public safety and that getting away from regulations is not smart. Simplifying a very complicated stack of code books, he went through the high points, explaining that there are codes for existing buildings that are “grandfathered” in to the system, working with the historic design of a building.
“There can be different work areas requiring different building codes in the same building,” he said. “One part may be just repairs, while another part may require replacement. Working with a knowledgeable code officer is important, and the owner should want to make proper repairs or replacements with the idea of safety in mind.”
Addressing sources of funding and strategies for obtaining these monies, Development Consultant Murray Gould of Port City Preservation shared several of his own experiences relating to obtaining funding.
“The first thing to remember about your project is it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” he said, bringing a laugh from the crowd, who seemed to know that all too well.
“Get people around you who have done this before. They are knowledgeable and can save a lot of headaches.”
He explained the development cycle: First, look at the use for the building; next, figure out the development costs and estimate how much revenue the venture will generate; and the last two steps are to make an all-inclusive list of expected operating expenses and, finally, seek sources of funding.
‘NOT THE ENEMY’
He emphasized, also, that an important first step can be listing the property on the National Register of Historic Places, which opens up options for funds, including grants from nonprofit agencies. Funding can also come from the private sector, like banks and municipalities with property exemptions.
He emphasized that federal and state agencies are not the enemy. They are there to help.
“And don’t be afraid to rethink a design,” Gould encouraged. “If the design has to be altered to gain the monies needed, then alter it. It may work out better, requiring less expense and bringing in a bigger payday in the end.
“Most importantly, fill out all applications before starting any work,” he added. “It will save a lot of frustration in the long run.”
TO LEARN MORE
For information, applications or brochures on historic preservation, tax credits or the National Register of Historic Places contact these agencies: