Forget Aesthetics, Historic Preservation Means Cash


Around 1980, I was talking to the then-public relations person for the Ogden-Weber Chamber of Commerce about downtown Ogden and 25th Street.


At that time a huge block of buildings, where Karen’s Cafe and Ogden Blue now stand, had been torn out for “renewal,” and it was this person’s opinion that the whole rest of the street should get the same treatment.


“Rip it all out and build new,” he said.


He sort of got his wish with all the buildings where the Ogden City Mall went in. We all know how well that worked out.


Meanwhile, Two-Bit Street was kept, and the torn-out buildings replaced with others of the same style, and slowly, building by building, the street was rehabilitated and renewed. Now the street hums.


Latest example is “Alleged,” a new bar (and restaurant soon?) put into where the El Borracho Bar used to be, at 205 25th Street. What was once a pretty seedy dive where people regularly found themselves dead is now a very nice watering hole, complete with roof deck. How cool is it?


Roof view from Alleged. Image stolen from Alleged Facebook Page.



This all leads up to, and illustrates, an interesting talk I went to Thursday afternoon at Union Station, courtesy of the Utah Heritage Foundation, to answer the question of whether you can put a dollar amount on the value of preserving history.


As it turns out, you can. A lot of dollars.


Donovan Rypkema, the consultant hired to do the study, gave his talk at Union Station Thursday after similar talks in Salt Lake and Brigham City. He said Thursday’s talk had “not only the best crowd” of all his talks, “but the coolest building.”


Which figures. Union Station, of course, is a prime example of the very value of preservation that he was talking about. No, it doesn’t turn a profit either for Ogden or the Union Station Foundation, but Union Station is a key economic magnet for other businesses in central Ogden. “Alleged” mentions Union Station in its advertising materials.


What Rypkema’s studies showed was how much cash is generated, or saved, by the sort of historic preservation that keeps buildings like Union Station, or Ogden’s many historic homes, or the old El Borracho, from being torn down and replaced by generic McBuildings.


Among other findings:


— Rehabbing your average single family historic house instead of tearing it down saves 116 tons from having to go to the landfill. The amount of energy needed to tear that house down and build another one is equal to 12,338 gallons of gasoline.


— If all the homes in Utah that have been rebuilt using historic building credits had been razed instead it would have generated 131,471 tons of construction debris, enough to fill three football fields 40 feet deep, and used energy equal to almost 14 million gallons of gasoline.


— From 1990 to 2012 Utah generated 4,969 jobs because of historic preservation.


— Every $1 million in historic preservation generates 17 jobs, $847,000 in wages, $998,000 in secondary economic activity.


— Hate the federal government? Every $1 million spent on historic preservation generates $200,000 in tax credits, money that stays in Utah instead of going to DC.


— In four of five cities studied, historic districts were hurt less hard by the bursting of the housing bubble and retained value better afterwards. The one exception was Ogden, but Rypkema admitted that he included the recently added “Trolly District,” which extends to Harrison Boulevard and from 20th to 30th Streets, containing large areas where no historic preservation has yet been done.


— All cities studied had lower foreclosure rates in historic districts than outside them.


— Cities that emphasize historic preservation have seen rapid and large increases in rentals, occupancy and businesses that generate sales tax revenue. Brigham City was high in this regard.


— If historic preservation were a single business it would be larger than 98 percent of all the rest of Utah’s businesses.


— Direct and indirect spending by visitors to Utah heritage sites and historic events is nearly $1 billion a year.


And on and on.


This is just a sample. The summary I got last night is there now, and the whole study will be available at the Utah Heritage Foundation web site in a month. Meanwhile, as you ponder whether to preserve that old home you are living in, or think the city should tear out that old block of buildings and build new, think again.


The fiscally wiser, more conservative, more rewarding solution, may lie in preservation.