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Saving old buildings creates more jobs than new construction, saves energy, says PlaceEconomics' Don Rypkema

Published: Sunday, May 22 2011 1:49 a.m. MDT

Don Rypkema is the principal of PlaceEconomics, a Washington D.C.-based real estate and economic development-consulting firm. He is the keynote speaker for the 2011 Utah Heritage Foundation Preservation Conference.

Dwight C. Andrews, The Daily News

Old buildings are the new economy. These days, historic preservation is not just about preservation for preservation's sake; it has long-term economic impact, said Don Rypkema at the opening of this year's Utah Heritage Foundation Preservation Conference.

Rypkema, the principal of PlaceEconomics, a Washington, D.C.-based real estate and economic development firm, spoke at the Salt Lake Main Library on Thursday night, talking about the role preservation plays in sustainable development.

That's a catch phrase we hear often these days, Rypkema said, "but it's not just about adding solar panels. Sustainable development is the ability to meet our own needs without prejudicing the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Historic preservation has a central role in all that."

In the past five years or so, "there has been a lot of substantive research in this area," he said, which has identified four major economic impacts of preservation: creation of jobs and household income, increased property values, revitalizing the "Main Street community" and development of heritage tourism.

For example, a study in Delaware showed that rehabilitation of old buildings created 14.6 jobs per $1 million output, as compared to 11.2 job created by new construction and 9.2 jobs created in manufacturing. A study in Georgia, looking at its primary industries, has similar findings. A $1 million investment created 3.5 jobs in auto manufacture, four jobs in computer manufacture, 8.7 jobs in air transportation, 10.4 jobs in poultry processing and 18.1 jobs in rehabilitating old buildings.

As far as property values, creation of local historic districts not only add value to historic homes, but to other properties near those homes, said Rypkema. In Philadelphia, it represented a sales price premium of 131 percent; in nine Texas cities, increased property values ranged from 5 to 20 percent.

In the past 25 years, some $45 billion has been spent in revitalizing local Main Street communities. That outlay has resulted in 83,000 net new businesses; 370,000 net new jobs; 199,000 building rehabilitation and construction projects, said Rypkema.

Countless studies have also shown an impact of historic preservation on heritage tourism. In Philadelphia, for example, it accounts for 45,000 jobs and an annual revenue of $975 million. In Arkansas, 16 percent of all tourists are considered heritage tourists, but they spend 30 percent more than other tourists and stay almost twice as long.

As important as the economic impact is, however, "it is only part of the picture," said Rypkema. "Historic preservation also has environmental and social aspects."

In tearing down old buildings, he said, "we are throwing away thousands of dollars of embodied energy and then replacing it with materials vastly more consumptive of energy."

A study of one building in Connecticut found that tearing it down instead of rehabilitating it was the equivalent of throwing away 615,777 gallons of gas; sending more debris to the landfill than would be discarded by the entire city for 21 days; would wipe out the benefit of recycling 21,211,680 aluminum cans.

Creation of local historic districts also leads to more diverse communities, more walkable communities and adds other social benefits, said Rypkema.

"When we tear down historic buildings, we take things away from ourselves and from every future generation."

As part of the Utah Preservation Conference, the Utah Heritage Foundation's Heritage Awards were given at a Friday luncheon to recognize excellence in historic preservations.

"The winners reflect the variety of projects throughout Utah that are being undertaken and beautifully executed to showcase our past while being preserved for the future," says Kirk Huffaker, executive director of the Utah Heritage Foundation. "These projects highlight the importance of historic preservation and benefit our citizens and our visitors."

Award winners

Adaptive use: Housing Authority of Salt Lake City for the Stanley F. Taylor House.

Compatible addition: Thomas Carter for addition to 1762 Michigan Avenue.

Stabilization, restoration or renovation: City Creek Reserve for the Deseret Savings/First Security Bank Building; Dixie National Forest for the Pine Valley Guard Station; City of Fairview for the Peterson Dance Hall; Ron Henriksen for 1467 Penrose Drive; LaPorte Group for the Avalon House in Helper; LaPorte Group for the Newhouse Apartments in Price; Judy and Rufus Lohmueller for the Carroll Building in Ogden; Park City Municipal Corporation for the Marsac Building; Tracy Aviary for the Calvin D. Wilson South American Pavilion.

Organization: Weber County Heritage Foundation.

Individual: George R. Cannon, St. George.

Lucybeth Rampton Lifetime Achievement: Rob White, Salt Lake City.

Email: carma@desnews.com

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