Who Wore it Better? 

Facades on similar buildings, architecturally speaking, who are neighbors on the same street in Johnson, VT. Take a look.

Typical New England, two-story, gable-front commercial buildings.

An altered first floor porch, but looking vibrant.

An altered first floor porch, but looking vibrant.

And it’s neighbor:

Original porch and window details, but some alterations evident.

Original porch and window details, but some alterations evident including the bracketed roof over the fire escape (safety in New England winters).

These two are not the same exact building, but strikingly similar at first glance to stop and gaze. What do you think? Is one better than the other? No wrong answers, just pondering evolution of streetscapes.

Preservation on the Ground: Woodbury’s Armory in Burlington, VT

A historic building that sits empty for ten years is not an untold story in preservation, even if it appears to be in a prime location. The brick armory on Main Street in Burlington, VT sat empty since 2003, leaving passersby to wonder about its fate. What they did not know: this story is different. 

The Armory in its day as Hunt's Mill & Mining. Photo source: Housing Vermont. Click for link.

The Armory in its day as R.W. Hunt Mill & Mining Company. Photo source: Housing Vermont. Click for link.

Setting the Stage: Woodbury’s Armory

Urban Woodbury built the Armory in 1904 and leased the space to the National Guard. In its storied history, the Armory has served as a car dealership, R.W. Hunt Mill & Mining Company, Sha-Na-Na’s Night Club, and as office space. Circa 2000, a popular local music venue was looking to buy the space, but couldn’t decipher logistics with the City of Burlington. Fire struck in 2003, leaving the building unoccupied and seemingly forgotten after 100 years of use.

Enter Redstone

Who would want a burned-out, muddled, old building? Most would shy away. Fortunately, not Redstone, a company well known and respected for its historic preservation and rehabilitation of Vermont buildings such as the Chace Mill in Winooski and the Maltex Building in Burlington’s South End. After the fire, Redstone purchased and mothballed the building, and began working on the dilemma of the Armory’s next chapter. Erik Hoekstra, manager of the project, met with me on a surprisingly warm January afternoon for a tour of the building and project talk.

View from the corner of Main Street and Pine Street.

View from the corner of Main Street and Pine Street.

The Big (Block) Picture

The real story is that the building was never forgotten. Like its past, the future of Woodbury’s Armory is part of a bigger picture: the redevelopment of the Main-Pine-King-St. Paul block in the City of Burlington. The block includes TD Bank, Hinds Lofts, a mixed use block (King Street Housing), and a handful of private residences.

The Armory is located at the corner of Main Street and Pine Street. Note its location between the waterfront and Church Street.

The Armory is located at the corner of Main Street and Pine Street. Note its location between the waterfront and Church Street.

In addition to being a part of this block redevelopment, the Armory stands as an important link between Burlington’s successful Church Street pedestrian mall and the popular Lake Champlain Waterfront.

Landscaping plan-2 copy2

A landscaping plan, courtesy of Redstone, edited by author. Main Street is at the top of the image.

As Hoekstra and Redstone worked to develop a successful plan, the company invested in new windows, new stone sills, brick repointing and a new roof in 2007 for the Armory.  Not forgotten, but rather, the building was waiting for a sound, successful plan to germinate. According to Hoekstra, parking and finances were great challenges of this project. Parking is at a premium in the City of Burlington, and a building like the Armory didn’t come with parking. Working with property acquired from TD Bank, Redstone was able redesign the remaining open block space – then a surface parking lot – and provide enough parking.  In terms of finances, the Armory could not succeed alone as standalone project. It had to be bigger. It needed the entire block.   In the end, there are many funding partners and sources including Vermont State Tax Credits and New Market Tax Credits.

The first floor of the Armory shows where a pool will be located and where the floor above had to be removed.

The first floor of the Armory shows where a pool will be located and where the floor above had to be removed.

The Plan

As of February 2014, construction is well underway at the Armory. The Main-Pine-King-St. Paul block will soon be home to a new hotel, parking garage, and retail space. Woodbury’s Armory, on the Main Street/Pine Street corner will serve as the hotel lobby for the Hilton Garden Inn. The first floor of the Armory will house the hotel pool and retail space, hopefully a restaurant to add to Burlington’s eclectic mix of eateries. To the south and extending east from Armory will be an addition to house the 2 story parking garage with 4 floors of hotel rooms above. Sensitive to streetscape and the historic context, the garage/hotel addition will have different height elevation on St. Paul Street and Pine Street. Guests will access the lobby from the porte-cochère off Main Street.

The King Street and Main Street elevations of the project. Photo courtesy of Redstone.

The King Street and Main Street elevations of the project. Photo courtesy of Redstone.

St. Paul Street and Pine Street elevations. Courtesy of Redstone.

St. Paul Street and Pine Street elevations. Courtesy of Redstone.

Preservationists might ask why a chain hotel? Hoekstra said that although Redstone hoped for a boutique hotel, banks were only agreeable to funding an established, large business with a loyal customer base. The Hilton Garden Inn will be operated under a franchise agreement with Hilton, but will be locally owned by Redstone and partners.  Hilton has been amenable in terms of designing a unique space and incorporating the Armory’s historic features into the rehabilitation. The 139 room hotel is set to open by the end of 2014.

The Armory under construction, February 2014.

The Armory under construction, February 2014.

Why the Armory & Historic Preservation?

As Erik Hoekstra stated, Redstone prefers preservation and rehabilitation projects because of the challenge and commitment to the community. Sprawl development does not give that same satisfaction of project completion. Urban infill, smart growth, and redevelopment make the job more interesting.

One of the best finds of the restoration was uncovering the Armory carved into the granite lintel.

One of the best finds of the restoration was uncovering the Armory carved into the granite lintel.

Hoekstra credits his interest in historic buildings and development to growing up in several historic houses, including a Sears Roebuck Catalog house in LaGrange, IL. Hoekstra studied real estate and finance and worked in New York City before coming to Vermont in 2001 to work with Housing Vermont and later Redstone. He studied Real Estate Development in the Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.

Interested in Hoekstra’s line of work? He advises that there are many roads to working in development and historic preservation. Some include working in construction, property management, finance or a non-profit organization like Housing Vermont. Hoekstra says that no matter the type of company, the process is still the same: Design, permit, finance, legal, construction.

When asked about his favorite part of this project, Hoekstra said that it’s seeing all of the puzzle pieces fit together. And that is always a preservation success story.

A view looking north on Pine Street.

A view looking north on Pine Street.

Preservation ABCs: M is for Main Street

Preservation ABCs is a series that will work its way from A to Z, bringing words into conversation that are relevant to historic preservation, whether it’s an idea, feature or vocabulary term. The idea is to help you see preservation everywhere you look and wherever you go. Enjoy! See previous letters.

————————–

M is for Main Street

misformainstreet.jpg

Marion, VA

Main Street is a common idea, phrase, and referenced place in historic preservation because it incorporates so much of what historic preservation believes. Main Street (whether or not yours is named Main Street) historically included prominent building blocks, local businesses, a mix of retail and residential, a variety of services for the community, gathering places, human scale buildings, transportation nexuses, and a sense of place. Over the centuries and decades, main street as a hub for all of this faded; populations moved to the suburbs and strip malls and large indoor shopping malls and big box retailers took the place of main street.

And now, people are realizing once again the economic and community value of a main street. The National Trust Main Street Center focuses on revitalizing main streets to viable, sustainable communities. Main Streets can reinvent themselves. Some become more artsy or food oriented. Others retain basic services like pharmacies and stationery stores. Each community will have different needs and interests. The key is finding what works for each one, and having willing, passionate people involved.

Does your town have a main street? Or did you grow up in suburban developments (like me)? Has your main street changed over the years? How?

Buy Local Advertisements

Yesterday’s image, “You Can’t Buy Happiness, But You Can Buy Local and that’s Kind of the Same Thing,” was well liked, so I thought you might like additional graphics. Who doesn’t love a good design, right? These “Buy Local” advertisements have probably been floating around the internet for a while, but some are so creative and fu that they warrant sharing with as many people as possible. Does your town or city have a similar poster or logo?

via Seed Designs. Click for source and original.

Infographic by elocal.com. Click for source and original.

Buy Local First Utah. Click for source.

Brookhaven, MS. Click for original source and additional images.

Clinton County, OH. Click for source.

Marshfield, WI. Click for source.

A nice main street block with such potential! BUY LOCAL so this doesn’t happen to you. Click for source.

Infographic via Columnfive Media and Intuit and Mind Body Green. Click for source.

Clearly, this could go on forever. Point being, the next time you are looking for some local shopping inspiration, take a look at these images. Share them (with proper credit to their original sites, of course) and get out to support those local businesses in whatever way you can. Have an image to share? Send it along. Enjoy!

Historic Preservation Month, Big Box Stores, Preservation Tools

{Author’s note: an earlier version of this post has been altered for the purpose of education and advocacy rather than partial rant. This method – as in, not a rant – of writing is much more effective for the mission of historic preservation; I apologize for straying from the PiP mission on such important issues. I hope that the information in this post will encourage you to consider historic significance of our built environment and how to engage your community members along with how to appreciate and employ preservation regulations where appropriate.}

—————————-

May is National Historic Preservation Month. This year, four of the largest big box chain stores – Walmart, Target, Kmart and Kohls, turn 50 years old. These chain stores have changed the face and culture of America, so Preservation Month seems like a fitting time to discuss some related issues, including: (1) big boxes reaching 50 years in age and potential significance; (2) big box and chain store sprawl; and (3) the power that citizens have through historic preservation regulations to fight sprawl and poor development.

{This is a long post, but such length is necessary for this discussion.}

From the National Trust Main Street Center’s Facebook page. Click to visit.

First: Big box stores? 50 years old? Wouldn’t that mean they are old enough to be evaluated for significance and eligibility for listing in the National Register of Historic Places? Technically, yes. Don’t get too excited, however. While the original stores may be eligible for evaluation, this does not mean that every single big box chain store is or will ever be historic. You will recall that a determination of historic significance is based on an evaluation of the seven aspects of integrity as related to criteria of eligibility. In other words, these original stores would need to have a high level of integrity in order to be historically significant. So, it is my opinion that yes, the flagship stores of chains that changed America, might be historically significant. Why? Because significant resources are not limited to the rose-colored-glasses-view standard. As for the hundreds and thousands of subsequent chain stores? Probably not. What do you think?

Ironically, the first Walmart store – Waltons five and dime – now serves as the Walmart visitors’ center in Bentonville, AK, which is a historic district.

Related to big box stores, though different, are strip malls. I’ve recently come across blogs, such as Pleasant Family Shopping, that are dedicated to preserving the history of strip malls. An interesting concept, yes? America would not be the same without strip malls, for better or worse. I’d venture to say that the history of the strip mall is more important than the physical building itself. Do you agree? When is history more important than the actual place? Thus, those thousands of big box retail giant buildings are not significant, even though the story is. In the case of defunct and empty box stores, the argument for reuse is best left in the environmental and sustainability playing field.

Second: Big boxes exist and will continue to exist for a while; but, let’s hope that the National Trust Main Street Center analysts are correct and main street businesses will find resurgence in the next 50 (or fewer!) years. Small business ownership, local economics and downtown shopping are gaining popularity in conversation and practice. Unfortunately, big boxes and sprawl continue to invade and threaten our towns, villages and cities across the country, whether you live in Vermont, Montana, California, Iowa — anywhere.

The Vermont Forum on Sprawl defines sprawl as, “Dispersed development outside of compact urban and village centers along highways and in rural countryside.” If you live in an area where village and town centers remain intact and distinguishable from sprawl and strip malls, then consider yourself lucky. Many people are not so lucky. Read more sprawl definitions on the Sprawl Guide from Planners Web.

Sprawl includes big box retailers such as the big four mentioned above who turn 50 this year; drugstores such as RiteAid, Kinney Drugs, Walgreens, CVS, Duane-Reade, etc.; other large retailers such as Best Buy, Toys R US, Dicks Sporting Goods, Staples, Dollar General, Family Dollar, etc. Currently, dollar stores are threatening Vermont left and right. Why are these stores contributing to sprawl? Simply put, most insist on constructing their own building and parking lot on undeveloped land, outside of village centers, targeting areas with weak zoning controls. Seldom will you see a box chain store nicely fitting into a historic downtown or village center.

The thing about sprawl is that anyone who has studied community development, land use planning, historic preservation, local economics or any related field, can automatically tell you that sprawl causes negative impacts to historic downtowns and local businesses. There is no question about it. And it is completely avoidable. So why are we still fighting the same issues? Do a quick web search; you will find countless studies, such as this one from the Sierra Club or this listing of reports from Planners Web.

Third: How can we prevent sprawl and big box development that destroys the vitality and vibrance of our historic downtowns, those same downtowns where Main Street is starting to find its resurgence? You and I can shop in local businesses religiously (as we should!), but there is absolutely no guarantee that development pressures do not exist or will not arise. Big box stores and outside-of-downtown development does not come because of a lack of downtown. It comes because a developer wants to, some people agree and local politicians agree.

Sprawl and poorly planned development near a historic district will negatively effect the downtown business district. In fact, a big box store/super center may eventually kill the local businesses and the local (as in locally owned, small business) economy. And then what? People are forced to shop at that store. Downtown is abandoned. The buildings are neglected. Quality of life and sense of place decrease. The historic business district is dead, and yet another, rare, formerly successful downtown is no more. Successful, sustainable downtowns are so critical to our economy and quality of life, and big box development can ruin everyone’s hard work in a matter of months or years.

How can you fix this? How can you preserve your town’s vitality?

The answer you will hear time and time again – because it’s true – is to insure that your town/city has proper zoning regulations. In brief, zoning classifies parcels into use categories (commercial, residential, industrial, etc.). Zoning can also dictate the size of a commercial establishment, which is often what precludes big box development out of a particular area. Unfortunately, many municipalities do not have updated zoning (out of date zoning can be just as bad as no zoning) because it has never been an issue or because people are misguided and are not in favor of zoning. How do you work around this? You have to start at the local level. Talk to your local officials. Use the Big Box Tool Kit website as a reference: it is one of the best of its kind.

The greatest changes happen at the local level.

Aside from local policies, our country is shaped by state and federal policies and laws, which include historic preservation regulations, particularly Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act, both 1966 (see HP Basics No.2 for overview). The nuances of each vary, but it is important to know that state and federally funded projects must consider the project effects to historic resources and avoid, minimize or mitigate those effects. Both protect historic properties.

In addition to knowing the function of the laws, it is important to know that, as member of the public, you can be involved in the process of Section 106 and Section 4(f) through public and community meetings.  The Citizen’s Guide to Section 106 produced by the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation is incredibly helpful and is easy to understand if you are unfamiliar with such regulatory processes (see page 12 for public involvement).

Working with Federal Agencies – page 12 of the Citizen’s Guide to Section 106, produced by the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation. Click for original source.

Section 4(f) does not have quite the reader-friendly print edition as Section 106; however, the interactive Section 4(f) training website, produced by the Maryland Department of Transportation, is user and reader friendly (with only the necessary amount of regulatory speak). Enjoy both!

The federal regulations protect historic properties. In other words, proper building infill, appropriate building renovation, sensitive roadway improvements — all federally funded projects in, through or adjacent to a historic property are required to be reviewed by qualified professionals, in order to prevent adverse effects. These laws are effective.

Do you disagree with a project or an aspect of the project? How can Section 106 and Section 4(f) apply to you? Here are some important sections of the laws that relate to determining effects of a project:

As part of Section 106 regulations, step one is to identify the Area of Potential Effect, which is defined as: “The geographic area or areas within which an undertaking may directly or indirectly cause alterations in the character or use of historic properties, if any such properties exist. The area of potential effects is influenced by the scale and nature of an undertaking and may be different for different kinds of effects caused by the undertaking” (36 CFR 800.16(d)).  “Effect means alteration to the characteristics of a historic property qualifying it for inclusion in or eligibility for the National Register” (36 CFR 800.16i). An “adverse effect” has a longer definition, but “Adverse effects may include reasonably foreseeable effects caused by the undertaking that may occur later in time, be farther removed in distance or be cumulative” (36 CFR 800.5(1)).

Section 4(f) is more complicated, but essentially says that a transportation project cannot “use” a historic resource (or recreation resource, waterfowl or wildlife refuge) if there is a feasible and prudent alternative to doing so. An intriguing “use” under Section 4(f) is constructive use, meaning, “A constructive use occurs when the transportation project does not incorporate land from a Section 4(f) property, but the project’s proximity impacts are so severe that the protected activities, features, or attributes that qualify the property for protection under Section 4(f) are substantially impaired. Substantial impairment occurs only when the protected activities, features, or attributes of the property are substantially diminished” (23 CFR 774.15(a)).

When my UVM classmates and I first learned about 4(f), we thought it was the golden ticket. Proximity impacts?! That sounds like everything, we said. Only not. We learned that what we may consider an adverse effect in our academic bubble, was not necessarily articulated in the law. In other words, sprawl didn’t exactly apply for the application of this law. Every law has its place. Think of it as checks and balances; we need laws to work together, no matter what field or sector. Obviously, right? After all, no one resource is in a vacuum. Everything is interconnected. Are you with me?

So, for issues such as sprawl; let’s assume that it is clear that there are no historic properties in the project area. Therefore, no historic properties are affected, adverse or otherwise, under application of the laws. How will you protect your community from sprawl now? Where would protection against strip malls and poor development apply? In such a case where historic preservation laws do not reach, you need to employ other regulations. After all, one set of laws cannot solve everything, no matter how badly some of us might want them to.

The best protection of the economics of your community and the health of your community are local ordinances and local zoning (with concerned, dedicated citizens working in front of and behind these regulations). See how important this is?! Combined with historic preservation regulations, zoning and planning will preserve your historic properties and districts, which will preserve the economic sustainability and health of your community.

Can you make the argument that sprawl = negative impacts to your community? Of course. Learn how to prevent the negative impacts of sprawl. The answer: zoning, planning, community involvement, education! Our country, our states, our municipalities follow regulations and laws. It is important to understand the full strength and applicability of our laws to protect historic resources (and other resources). Where one set of laws does not meet your needs or does not apply to your concerns, you have to go other routes. Be an informed citizen and you will have a better quality of life and sense of place.

What do you think, about any or all of this?

Pedestrian Malls

What do you think of streets closed to traffic (pedestrian malls)? Do you like to visit places with pedestrian malls? Would you like to live in a town or city with a pedestrian mall? They have a time and a place, yes?

Church Street in Burlington, VT is lined in brick and cars are only on the cross streets.

Church Street Marketplace in Burlington, Vermont is an excellent example of a successful pedestrian mall. Restaurants have outdoor seating. There is public art. Retail stores have actual sidewalk sales. Musicians sit on the brick lined street and play. Kids, couples, families stroll up and down the pedestrian mall. It’s beautiful and sunny and ambient. However, Church Street has not always been like this. Just a few decades ago it was a traditional downtown which had gone downhill until 1981 when Burlington began to reinvent itself, including Church Street. (Disclaimer: there is more history to downtown Burlington than that!)

But, pedestrian malls are not always successful. Look at Fayetteville Street in Raleigh, NC, which was converted to a pedestrian mall in 1976 in hopes of revitalizing the city. Instead, it had the opposite effect. In fact, the street was less populated and less popular than ever. Finally, in 2005, the city decided to return the street to vehicle and pedestrian use rather than just pedestrians.  However, the new plan included wider sidewalks, street furniture, plantings, wayfinding signage and a plan for additional development. The current result? Success.

Fayetteville Street in Raleigh, NC with wide sidewalks and street planting and furnishings. Image via Metro Jacksonville. Click for source.

Charlottesville, VA has a pedestrian mall as well that seems successful. And it has the giant chalkboard, if you recall.

Charlottesville, VA pedestrian mall and community chalkboard.

The best examples for pedestrian malls that I can think of lie in cities with a strong population base of college students and/or tourism. Aside from big cities, what about small towns? Could pedestrian malls work and would there be a good justification for creating them? I think of Vermont towns with small main street business districts. Many of our towns have one or two through roads, and converting a street to a pedestrian mall would not seem feasible. A park or a courtyard or a side street; however, could be another story. Additionally, many towns have limited parking and sidewalk space. A large sidewalk to accommodate seating, shopping, walking and street furnishings is just not possible.

What if we consider daily shopping v. tourism shopping? Ideally, our main streets and business districts across the country have restaurants, retail, pharmacies, markets and overall a good combination of – shall we say – those every day sorts of businesses and those fed by tourism and our “expendable” incomes.  In a business district that caters to the town itself rather than tourism and large crowds, a pedestrian mall would seem improbable and inappropriate. One reason is parking. People who need to stop at the pharmacy or the bagel shop or the bank want to be able to park in front of or near the building, and not have to walk from a parking garage or a far away spot in order to run a quick errand or two. Hence, pedestrian malls have a time and place. Small town America may not be the place.

Does anyone know of a town with a small main street business district that has been converted to a pedestrian mall? I’d be interested to know. While pedestrian malls are aesthetically pleasing, they seem ideal in warmer climates or those with large business districts that will attract many people. I’d like to hear a debate on pedestrian malls, one given by planners who have studied such issues and weighed the pros and cons and the factors at play. Are any of you readers skilled in such discourse? Care to give a brief overview of what is important to consider for the creation (or removal) of pedestrian malls?

So, readers, tell me your thoughts on pedestrian malls and parking in front of businesses? What do you think is preferable in theory? In practice?