In Indiana, communities are looking to the past to help them build a better future as local businesses and organizations put money and time into the restoration of historic buildings to give them a new life, a new purpose in a world that may have otherwise forgotten them.
Since 2016, the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs has helped Hoosiers return historic buildings to their former glory by providing thousands of dollars in grant money to approximately 40 projects all over the state, as estimated by OCRA project manager Mary Shaw who said on average, OCRA contributes about $50,000 per project, although the amount of the grants can range from $10,000 all the way up to $100,000.
“State legislature decided that instead of a historic tax credit, they wanted to have direct grant funding to property owners,” Shaw said. “Most of our grants have gone out to places with less than 50,000 (people).”
OCRA hopes to expand their historic preservation efforts even more in 2018. In years past, only “non-entitlement” communities could qualify for the grants, leaving out urban areas like Fort Wayne. The expansion of terms to include both entitlement and non-entitlement communities will now allow all communities in the state to apply for grant money.
Cities and towns that pursue historic preservation projects in their towns often find that their business community enjoys multiple benefits. Not only do they provide jobs for residents, but the distinctiveness of the buildings instills a sense of place.
“Historic buildings are more unique,” said ARCH of Fort Wayne Executive Director Jill McDevitt. “Usually they are reusing the existing fabric, reusing buildings unique to just that location. They don’t have cookie-cutter big-box store floor plans, and often historic buildings are smaller scale so they work well for smaller business or new businesses.”
Historic homes in the area are also receiving attention in Fort Wayne, according to McDevitt. Houses, especially those in the west central neighborhood, are getting new leases on life from investors who buy the homes for the purpose of restoring them to what they looked like during the time period they were built. These projects prove to be as beneficial for real estate as they are for local business.
“There have been studies done that houses in historic districts see increased property values,” McDevitt said. “When you’re in a local historic district there’s more review over exterior changes. That can be reassuring to some people that their neighbor can’t just paint their house pink or just tear it down and build it twice as tall.”
Historic preservation has proven to be a boost for Indiana cities of all sizes, as pointed out by Paul Hayden, director of Indiana Landmarks’ northeast field office. For many historic buildings, they face potnetial demise due to safety hazards that make them uninhabitable in their current state, calling upon intrepid contractors to put in the the extra work to make the buildings not only safe, but revitalized.
Charged with overseeing the historic preservation projects of seven counties in northeast Indiana, Hayden has seen how fixing up old buildings can revitalize a community.
Hayden used Fort Wayne as an example, highlighting their plans to restore the historic GE plant and the economic impacts it could offer the area. On the other side of the spectrum, Hayden talked about the historic preservation projects going on in Wabash, where the northeast office is located. He said the city has secured funding and plans to preserve multiple old buildings in their downtown area including the 111-year old Eagles Theatre.
“Revitalization works for all kinds of different communities,” Hayden said. “We see much more livable, vibrant communities where historic buildings are incorporated into their revitalization plans. It’s an exciting time to be here. We’re there at forefront to build on that momentum.”
This commitment to preserving historic buildings has not always been a priority, according to Hayden, as developers saw big-box stores and mega-malls as the way of the future with no room for the humble buildings of old.
“Prior to the 1980s, city municipalities would buy large blocks of buildings and tear them down for construction,” Hayden said. “We no longer see this kind of wholesale demolition in our communities like we used to for the purpose of building new buildings.”
Facts and figures aside, the most important thing about these efforts for Hayden and Indiana Landmarks is simply keeping that local history alive and not letting it crumble and fade away until there’s nothing left of them except black and white photos in historical archives.
“The most important reason is the obvious one of preserving history,” Hayden said. “Preserving that architectural history as a record is very important.”