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Landmark Society means business, focusing on the past and future

Rochester Business Journal
November 23, 2012

Seventy-five years ago, one of our community’s most unlikely economic engines was born.
 
Founded in 1937, the Landmark Society of Western New York Inc. is one of the oldest preservation organizations in the United States—and one of the most progressive. Economic impact may not be the first thought that comes to mind when describing a preservation organization, but this one packs a punch.
 
In general, historic preservation groups are often criticized for focusing their energy on stemming the relentless march of progress. Here in Rochester, the Landmark Society has staked a unique position as a dealmaker and economic force. Much of this is due to its dynamic executive director, Wayne Goodman, who joined the organization in January 2011. He already has shown a balanced perspective, gaining the respect of local developers and business leaders while retaining the admiration of preservationists.
 
Given the significance of the anniversary, I asked Wayne for his top three significant events of the last 75 years.
 
“First would have to be our founding in 1937,” he says. “This lays groundwork for us being a nationwide leader in preservation. We started our organization with real estate and advocacy in mind. It was so early, … we provided the nation with models to follow.”
 
Second, Goodman says, would be the 1969 designation of Rochester’s first historic district—the East Avenue District, bounded by East and Park avenues and Alexander and Probert streets.
 
“This was very important, as it led the way for similar districts all over Rochester and Western New York,” he says. “These protected resources still serve us as businesses and residences. Their protection has led to an increase in property values, creating excellent opportunities for homeowners and investors. These resources are a key draw for tourists, and they attract entrepreneurs.”
 
The third significant event, in Goodman’s view, is the organization’s fairly recent gravitation toward a much stronger partnership with developers, the design community and the real estate community.
 
“We promote development projects,” Goodman says. “This somewhat recent shift demonstrates how we believe that heritage is not only sacred, unique and irreplaceable, but heritage is also profitable—in many ways to many people—and there is nothing wrong with that.”
 
With its 75th-anniversary campaign slogan, “It’s About Now,” the Landmark Society emphasizes its commitment to being relevant in today’s world. While his perspective is probably as much about the future as it is the past, Goodman acknowledges that he is helping to build upon a legacy left by previous executive directors, professional staff and board leadership.
 
Over the years the organization has successfully shepherded a long list of historic properties back to viability. One such example is the Roycroft Inn in East Aurora, considered a key birthplace location within the Arts and Crafts movement. The Landmark Society took ownership of the property, which was in disrepair, then negotiated an extensive, complicated restoration.
 
Today this is an operating hotel and restaurant and remains a valuable national treasure. It is a magnet for tourism, provides an anchor for an entire neighborhood business district and has returned untold tax dollars to the regional economy. Without this enlightened and committed intervention, the building would now be gone and all the potential with it.
 
Another key focus for the Landmark Society has been consistent advocacy for both the federal and state rehabilitation tax credit programs. These programs have had a record of not only paying for themselves but also returning a revenue stream back to the government. These tax credits have played an important role in successfully redeveloping historic buildings, filling the gap where no other financing will. The Landmark Society provides guidance through this process, helping to facilitate projects that have created thousands of jobs and leveraged millions of dollars in investment.
 
The Landmark Society has also established an impressive list of initiatives, all of which have very positive economic benefits:
 
 

  • In 1998, the society launched Rochester City Living. This initiative promotes city living and provides information on home ownership, home maintenance and neighborhoods. The program includes bus tours of historic homes for sale. It also provides real estate training each year, which assists agents in writing descriptions, offers marketing advice and educates agents on historic elements in architecture that entice purchasers.
  • The Landmark Society recently started a loan program through a partnership with NeighborWorks Rochester. This will provide funds to homeowners in the city’s eight preservation districts to do repairs and maintenance.
  • The Landmark Society’s new Preservation Grant Fund for all of Western New York will assist in offsetting the cost of pre-construction architectural or engineering work for a building in need. The intent is to help preservation projects get off the ground. By answering questions like “How much will it cost?” and “Is the building structurally sound?” interested property owners will be better positioned to offset financial risk at the outset of a project. This creates jobs, investment and tax revenues.
  • The Landmark Society soon will launch a Five to Revive list. This will be an annual list of five historic properties in Western New York that could be solid investments and catalysts for even greater opportunity. The list also is intended to create public awareness of historic properties that are in need.
  • The crowds attending the Landmark Society’s annual Inside Downtown Tour have steadily grown over the past years. Highlighting both adapted historic space and compatible new construction, this tour encourages continued and creative real estate development. It showcases the positive impact preservation has had on our economy.

In 1937, the Landmark Society was founded ostensibly to save the Campbell-Whittlesey House, a historic home in the 3rd Ward. It was preserved as a museum and became, for many years, the organization’s home base. Seventy-five years later, the property is back on the tax rolls. The recent decision to sell the property to an enthusiastic, preservation-minded homeowner is consistent with the organization’s commitment to a creative brand of stewardship.
 
It is another reminder that the Landmark Society means business.
 
Jim Durfee is vice president and design principal at Bergmann Associates. An architect and past president of American Institute of Architects-Rochester, he can be reached at (585) 232-5135 or at jdurfee@bergmannpc.com.

11/23/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.
 


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