Personally I liked my adopted hometown of Kingman, Arizona the way it was 55 years ago. Everything was centrally located – a theater, shops, grocery store, drug store, restaurants, saloons and night clubs, and garages. The historic heart of the town was vibrant with multi generational stores, and even a soda fountain in the drug store that had opened in 1898. And there was an endless flow of traffic through town on Route 66. Author and artist Bob Boze Bell and I talked a bit about this on a recent episode of Coffee With Jim, a podcast from Jim Hinckley’s America.
Route 66 was replaced by I40. Strip malls, and national chain restaurants and stores replaced mom and pop shops. The historic heart of the city withered and urban sprawl was viewed as progress. This story has been repeated in small towns and big cities throughout America.
Things change. Whether those changes are for the better, or for the worse, is dependent on leadership, and leaderships ability to foster development of a sense of community as well as translate vision into action.
Kingman, Arizona is at the proverbial crossroads. Passionate volunteers, investors with vision, and small business owners are breathing new life into the historic heart of the city. It is evident in the ongoing transformation of the historic State Theater into the Beale Street Theater performing arts center, Chillin On Beale, the narrated historic district walking tour developed by Kingman Main Street, and renovation of the Hotel Brunswick and similar projects. All of this translates into economic development.
But a key component is missing. That has been made evident in contentious discussions about the Kingman Downtown Infrastructure Project in recent city council meetings, and proposals to divert project funds to street repair. Obviously this would hinder historic district revitalization, and related economic development.
Historic district revitalization initiatives in the United States are a key component in long term economic development planning. These initiatives preserve and enhance the historic, cultural, and architectural heritage of older and historic commercial districts, while also promoting their economic vitality and social diversity. In this blog post, I will explore some of the benefits, challenges, and examples of historic district revitalization in the United States.
Benefits of Historic District Revitalization
Historic district revitalization provides a multitude of benefits to communities, such as:
– Increasing property values and tax revenues: With proper incentive historic districts attract investment and as a result enhance tourism, which can boost the local economy and generate more tax revenue for public services. Studies have shown that historic districts have higher property values and lower vacancy rates than comparable areas.
– Creating jobs and supporting local businesses: Historic district revitalization can create jobs for construction workers, artisans, architects, planners, and other professionals involved in preservation and rehabilitation projects. It can also support local businesses by providing them with a unique identity, a loyal customer base, and access to financial incentives such as tax credits and grants .
– Enhancing overall quality of life and sense of place: Historic district revitalization can enhance the quality of life within a community and create a sense of place for residents and visitors by preserving the historic character, aesthetic appeal, and cultural diversity of neighborhoods. It can also foster social cohesion and civic engagement by creating opportunities for community participation, education, and cultural events hel within the historic district.
– Promoting environmental sustainability: Historic district revitalization can promote environmental sustainability by reducing waste, energy consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions associated with demolition and new construction. It can also encourage alternative modes of transportation such as walking, biking, and public transit by creating compact, mixed-use, and walkable neighborhoods .
Challenges of Historic District Revitalization
Historic district revitalization can also face some challenges, such as:
– Balancing preservation and development: Historic district revitalization requires a careful balance between preserving the historic integrity and authenticity of buildings and districts, and accommodating the needs and preferences of current and future users. This can involve trade-offs between competing values, interests, and goals among different stakeholders.
– Securing funding and resources: Historic district revitalization can be costly and time-consuming, requiring significant funding and resources from various sources. These sources may include federal, state, local, or private funds; grants; tax credits; loans; or donations. However, these sources may be limited, competitive, or contingent on certain criteria or conditions .
– Navigating regulations and procedures: Historic district revitalization involves complying with various regulations and procedures at different levels of government. These may include zoning ordinances; design guidelines; building codes; historic preservation laws; environmental reviews; or approval processes. These regulations and procedures may be complex, inconsistent, or unclear. But communities that understand the importance of historic district revitalization as a component of historic deistrict revitalization can stream line the process, and initiate zoning initiatives the encourage development.
Examples of Historic District Revitalization
There are many examples of successful historic district revitalization initiatives in the U.S., such as:
– Main Street America: Main Street America is a national network of over 1,600 communities that use a comprehensive approach to revitalize their downtowns and commercial districts. The approach is based on four points: economic vitality; design; promotion; and organization. Main Street America provides technical assistance, training, resources, advocacy, and recognition to its members.
– Beall’s Hill Neighborhood Revitalization: Beall’s Hill is a historic neighborhood in Macon, Georgia that dates back to the 1860s. Since 2004, Historic Macon Foundation has been leading a neighborhood revitalization program that involves rehabilitating existing historic structures; building new houses with historic charm; creating amenities such as a dog park and a shade tree nursery; and partnering with Mercer University to offer down payment assistance to homebuyers.
– Lowertown Revitalization Project: Lowertown is a historic district in Saint Paul, Minnesota that was once a thriving warehouse district. Since the 1980s, Lowertown has been undergoing a revitalization project that involves converting vacant warehouses into lofts; restoring historic buildings such as the Union Depot; creating public spaces such as Mears Park; and supporting arts and culture such as the Lowertown Arts District.
Historic district revitalization initiatives are a key component in long term economic development planning. For communities along the Route 66 corridor the benefits can be magnified exponentially if an agressive tourism department with vision can be created.