Friday, September 09, 2011

Self-Funding Historic Preservation

I’ve been thinking of Preservation Durham recently, in part because the organization was selected to benefit from The Bull City Rumble, which was held here over the Labor Day Holiday weekend and in part because of a “do-or-die” effort to raise $50,000, currently underway.

Fact is, though, that Preservation Durham should have been fully endowed by now if it had received just a tiny portion of the various “historic preservation tax credits” granted to and leveraged by private developers over the last thirty years whenever one of Durham’s many incredible, old factories was adapted for reuse as offices, restaurants, stores and apartments.

The inspiration for projects like these traces directly back to the advocacy and hard work of Preservation Durham which for many years was known as The Historic Preservation Society of Durham.

Instead of being financially stable, this non-profit has struggled for years being sustained through contributions from hundreds of members and the dedicated services of many volunteers, while the fruits of their efforts have fueled the restoration of millions of square feet of commercial and residential space and broadened the community’s local tax base.

I personally have some experience with the concept of “self-funding.” It occurs when a community ties the funding of a non-commercial activity to those businesses that benefit directly from or related to its activity.

For instance, visitor-centric economic and cultural development, where I spent nearly all of my just-concluded career as an executive, is customarily “self-funded” by a special sales tax levied on a portion of the visitors to a community or by a special assessment on businesses that benefit directly from visitors, usually in the form of a “tourism business improvement district.”

Theaters such as the Durham Performing Arts Center and many other across the country are in part “self-funded” by a City of Durham surcharge on each ticket sold to attendees for events hosted there. A much smaller ticket surcharge also helps self-fund the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and the non-profit contract operation of The Carolina Theatre.

Hopefully, in the future though, officials and developers alike will see to it that Preservation Durham is self-funded by making the organization a direct beneficiary of the “historic preservation tax credits” granted to private developers to leverage the spectacular commercial developments that result from PD’s advocacy.

This organization’s important work has just begun.

1 comment:

Aaron said...

I'm just embarking on a historic rehab project in downtown Durham. Our building was was first built in 1909 and was part of the historic "Black Wall Street" on Parrish. I've heard the name of Preservation Durham but don't know what they do or whether they have services that would be helpful to me. From their website it looks more like residential homes so our project probably doesn't apply. Do they have offices in Durham, a learning or outreach center? Anything to engage people going through actual preservation projects?