By BECKY GILLETTE
The components of a city are as multifaceted as the elements of a successful business.
“One undeniable factor for attracting visitors, new residents, and high-quality professionals to any town is character,” said Belinda Stewart, FAIA, principal, Belinda Stewart Architects, PA, Eupora. “With all the choices available in this highly connected world, Mississippi’s got character covered, if we can keep it.”
Stewart said they see historic preservation as one of the most visible and supportive character retaining elements to Mississippi’s economy. Think of cities like Greenwood, Laurel and Cleveland which have celebrated their unique architecture, and are on the way to restoring their historic town cores to support not only the coffee and dress shops, but multi-family housing, hospitality and education facilities.
“The recently renovated Guaranty Bank & Trust Company building in downtown Greenwood is an example of restoring an existing Beaux Arts structure to serve the community while also supporting the larger corporation brand and downtown development plan,” Stewart said. “The building exterior was restored while the interior design emphasizes not only the remaining historic finishes, but also contemporary layout and finishes. At the grand opening community support was overwhelming, much to the credit of this new bank’s support of Greenwood’s vision for downtown revitalization.”
Another project that just made good business sense was the historic Canton High School rehabilitation. The former high school has a large footprint and once it was vacated as an education facility, finding a new use took some imagination and support.
“The project was rehabilitated using Historic Tax Credits into a new multi-family housing facility providing 80 housing units including support spaces such as exercise facilities, an indoor children’s playground and indoor basketball courts,” Stewart said. “The project maximized it’s potential by capitalizing on the 20 percent Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit and the 25 percent Mississippi State Historic Preservation Tax Incentive program, as well as the Mississippi Home Corporation housing tax credit.”
Building materials used in historic buildings are often of higher quality than can be found today. Stewart said to invest in any construction project in this economy, your materials should sustain themselves and work for you.
“Typically, existing buildings reflect the values of the community and preservation can not only support the community history, but through, thoughtful renovation/rehabilitation can breathe new life into not only a building, but an area of the community,” Stewart said. “As the importance of quality space is on the rise, historic buildings provide not only quality, but also flexible space with an abundance of character. As designers, we don’t have to invent character in historic buildings; it’s already built.”
Another benefit is heritage tourism. Mississippi’s residents are creative and the arts are a draw for visitors.
“The increase in historic tourism has been boosted and supported by the blues and historic trails throughout the state,” Stewart said. “This has made way for special and locally influenced hospitality architecture. The Mason Boutique Hotel is a second- floor renovation project that was recently completed in downtown Louisville. The Masonic Lodge sold their two-story masonry structure to the existing first floor retailer — Southern Traditions — and the second floor was rehabilitated into a seven-unit boutique hotel with banquet space and an outdoor patio. The hotel is operated out of the Southern Traditions retail space and therefore the exposure to retail business has grown not only in Louisville, but surrounding communities.”
Stewart said their architecture firm cares deeply about not only their community, but other communities throughout the state.
“We have supported the restoration and rehabilitation of over 400 existing structures,” Stewart said. “To help support these projects we have also provided grant writing, historic structures reports, tax credit documentation and funding evaluations for many of these projects. Seeing Mississippi’s historic structures and community character saved is our goal. We enjoy helping towns, business owners and communities save and revitalize their hometowns.”
The rehabilitation of the historic buildings that define the character of Mississippi’s communities is the cornerstone for any successful downtown revitalization effort, said Lolly Rash, executive director of Mississippi Heritage Trust, a state-wide preservation advocacy nonprofit.
“Study after study has measured the positive economic impact that the rehabilitation of historic buildings has on job creation, heritage tourism and property values,” Rash said. “In addition to these measurable economic impacts, saving a historic building is part of being a good steward of the environment. The greenest building is the one already built.”
Rash said the State of Mississippi has made a considerable investment in the preservation of an irreplaceable architectural legacy. In response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the Mississippi Legislature allocated $60 million for a historic tax credit in 2006. The Mississippi Historic Tax Credit program received an additional $60 million allocation in 2016.
“These funds have helped rehabilitate over 300 buildings in fifty cities, leveraging approximately $300 million in local, qualified, non-acquisition related historic construction expenses,” Rash said. “In addition to funding the Mississippi Historic Tax Credit, the Mississippi Legislature has supported grant programs such as the Community Heritage Preservation Grant Program, which is administered by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Since its inception in 2001, the program has funded 270 restoration projects in 108 communities. The total grant funds allocated to the program are approximately $42,164,865, which were matched by approximately $12,466,552 in local funds.”
Programs of the Mississippi Heritage Trust include the 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in Mississippi, Heritage Awards and MS MOD.
“Over the past year, the Mississippi Heritage Trust has held 14 Preservation Toolkit Workshops throughout the state to educate property owners and preservation advocates about real estate finance and incentives like the state and federal historic tax credit,” Rash said. “To check out some great studies on the economic impact of historic preservation, visit the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and PlaceEconomics.”
The Mississippi Heritage Trust will announce the 2019 list of the 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in Mississippi on Thursday, October 24 at 6:00 p.m. at the Morris Ice Company in Jackson. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the 10 Most program. Presented by BankPlus, tickets to the announcement are $50 and can be purchased at www.10mostms.com.
Rash said there has been great progress with the 10 Most sites over the past year, including the grand opening of Centennial Plaza in Gulfport, a new roof for the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Estill, the rehabilitation of the Old Hattiesburg High School to become affordable apartments for seniors, the sale of the Lewis House (Oldfields) in Gautier to a preservation-minded couple, and a new roof and handicap accessible ramp at the Temple B’nai Israel in Natchez.
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