Research, policy reforms would help Ocean State regain its historic rehab momentum
By ecoRI News staff
Historic preservation pays dividends for Rhode Island’s economy and environment, according to a recent study commissioned by The Preservation Society of Newport County and Preserve Rhode Island. The report by nationally recognized economist Donovan Rypkema of PlaceEconomics is the first to analyze Rhode Island's preservation sector on four main themes: heritage tourism, historic tax credits, quality of life, and sustainability.
“What we found is Rhode Island’s historic cities, towns and neighborhoods attract visitors, residents, businesses and investment,” Rypkema said. “The assets of past centuries are the base of a 21st-century economy and are often locations of choice for today’s Rhode Islanders.”
Preserve Rhode Island executive director Valerie Talmage noted that the study took a comprehensive look “at the diverse ways in which our lives are positively impacted by historic preservation.”
Some of the key findings in the 37-page report include:
Rhode Island welcomes 9.8 million heritage visitors annually, who add nearly $1.4 billion to the state’s economy.
Spending by heritage visitors creates 19,000 direct jobs, and another 7,000 indirect jobs. Since 2001, 326 historic buildings have been rehabilitated in 26 of the state’s 39 cities and towns using state historic tax credits.
Every dollar the state invests in a tax-credit project generates $10.53 in economic activity.
Nearly 60 percent of Rhode Island’s population growth since 2000 has occurred within local historic districts, which comprise only 1 percent of the state's land area.
Preservation is green, as the reuse of one 40,000-square-foot historic building is equivalent to taking 24 to 28 cars off the road and preserving 4.2 acres of open space.
“In 1956, Preservation Society founder Katherine Warren said, ‘Historic preservation is an economic asset as well as an aesthetic one.’ This report proves how visionary she really was,” Preservation Society of Newport County executive director Trudy Coxe said. “Historic preservation has become an important economic driver for the state and investing in our historic resources is a direct investment in our future.”
Funding for the study was provided by the van Beuren Charitable Foundation, Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Washington, D.C.-based PlaceEconomics is a private sector firm with three decades of experience analyzing the economic impacts of historic preservation.
An all-day conference scheduled for next week will also address the impacts of historic preservation on Rhode Island’s economy.
Grow Smart Rhode Island’s annual Power of Place Summit, March 29 at the Rhode Island Convention Center in downtown Providence, will explore how the state with the “greatest concentration” of historic buildings and neighborhoods in America can capitalize more fully on this strategic asset.
The conversation will attempt to answer this question: How can Rhode Island regain its momentum for redeveloping historic buildings and neighborhoods?
Discussion panelists are: Scott Wolf, Grow Smart’s executive director; Kristin DeKuiper, partner at Holland & Knight LLP; Rep. Kenneth Marshall, D-Bristol; Kaity Ryan, deputy chief of staff for Preservation Society of Newport County; Clark Schoettle, executive director of the Providence Revolving Fund; and Talmage from Preserve Rhode Island.
Beginning in 2002, the “pace of breathing new life into our state’s bountiful supply of old historic buildings increased when Rhode Island stepped up with an ambitious State Historic Tax Credit program to supplement a similar tax credit at the federal level,” according to Grow Smart.
“Entrepreneurs responded by fixing and re-purposing hundreds of historic buildings — many underutilized or vacant.”
The result attracted new people, business, jobs and vitality to historic centers across Rhode Island. However, momentum slowed when the program was eliminated in 2008 and then was reinstated with limited funding in 2013.
Currently, 32 projects representing a proposed quarter-billion-dollar investment in Rhode Island’s economy remain on the program’s waiting list, according to Grow Smart.