Last week, Main Street Greenwood announced the availability of the Antoon’s Department Store, built in 1908, and a longtime mainstay in downtown Greenwood.
What’s exciting about this is that it marks the beginning of a larger effort that has paid huge preservation dividends in other states, a revolving fund that begins with the renovation of one building, rolls that money back into the fund to buy and renovate another, and so on. This is how Main Street describes their new program:
Current property owners and members of Main Street Greenwood, Inc., unable to sell or rehabilitate property within the Main Street Greenwood District will be eligible to submit an application to enter the Revolving Real Estate Program. Upon approval by the Main Street Greenwood Inc. Board of Directors, property will be donated to Main Street Greenwood, Inc. Upon receipt of property, Main Street Greenwood, Inc. will advertise the property for purchase bids. Main Street Greenwood reserves the right to reject any bid.
Purchasers of the property must agree to ALL rehabilitation terms, covenants and agreements set
by Main Street Greenwood, Inc. Funds received from the sale of the property will reimburse the organization for any advertising or marketing costs and then be placed in a Revolving Real Estate Fund to be used to continue this program.
At the discretion of the board, funds may be used to purchase or rehabilitate other properties within the Main Street Greenwood District.
The most successful preservation revolving fund in the country is undoubtedly that of Preservation North Carolina, which has been using this model to finance the rescue and restoration of about 700 historic properties since the 1970s.
Through its award-winning Endangered Properties Program, Preservation NC acquires endangered historic properties and then finds purchasers willing and able to rehabilitate them. It has saved more than 700 endangered historic properties, generating an estimated $350 million in private investment. Many of the saved properties have truly been community landmarks. Buyers have put these properties into a multitude of new uses, adding millions of dollars to local tax rolls and creating numerous jobs. Several of the larger properties have been adapted into affordable housing. More than 4,000 acres of open space have been placed under PNC’s protective covenants, perpetually restricting their development. PNC’s Endangered Properties Program is widely regarded as the nation’s most successful program of its kind.
The impact of Preservation NC’s Endangered Properties Program reaches far beyond the individual properties that it has directly saved. One of historic preservation’s many benefits for a community is its inspirational nature, as one rehab job invariably leads to another. By advertising the state’s historic properties in local, state and national publications, Preservation NC has indirectly been responsible for the revitalization of hundreds, if not thousands, of additional properties. Most of the properties saved through the Endangered Properties Program have been in rural areas or small towns, the parts of North Carolina most in need of reinvestment.
Preservation NC’s work with challenging properties has also raised the level of awareness about the value and promise of historic preservation to local communities. Preservation NC has been a pioneer in dealing with troubled building types, inspiring others through its example. From the inception of the North Carolina Main Street program in the early 1980s, PNC has been an active ally. Since the late 1980s, Preservation NC has worked to find adaptive uses for dozens of abandoned historic schools. Most recently, it has worked to find new economic lives for abandoned industrial factories and mill villages. These large projects have significant environmental, economic development, cultural tourism, and affordable housing components. Each will add millions of dollars to the local tax base and preserve complexes of enormous historical importance.
A successful revolving fund puts its preservation organization in a position of strength, allows it to be proactive rather than merely reactive. Instead of reacting to a potential demolition by pleading with the owner–a strategy that has always had a limited success rate and seems to be less and less effective–the preservation organization can offer cold hard cash to the conversation. I’ve noticed that people always seem to sit up and take notice when you pull money out of your pocket. As Jelleestone so aptly put it, “Money can’t buy me happiness, but I’m happiest when I can buy what I want, any time that I want.”
If North Carolina can do it, why not Mississippi?