Report Highlights Historic Preservation Economic Benefits

Article excerpt

"Historic preservation is not just good for the eyes and heart. It is good for the pocketbook," said David Listokin, a professor at the Center for Urban Policy Research of Rutgers University in New Brunswick.

He was commenting on a recently released two-year study that he co-authored with Michael Lahur, another professor at the center.

The 350-page report details the economic benefits, both direct and indirect, in New Jersey and nationally from such historic preservation activities as restoring and rehabilitating historic structures, heritage tourism and the operations of historic sites and organizations.

State and national advocates say the report is the first to provide the hard numbers to substantiate what they say they knew all along -- that the dollars spent on historic preservation create jobs, promote tourism, increase property values and attract new investment.

"For too long, and largely the fault of preservationists, the arguments for historic preservation have been soft, and about its `touchy, feely' impacts," said Dovanan D. Rypkema, a real estate and economic development consultant in Washington. "But what decision- makers want to know is how much will it cost and how much will it generate in revenue."

This study, he said, will help answer those questions and remove a weak spot in the growth of preservation.

"It is a new source of ammunition for preservationists trying to leverage more room at the bargaining table, especially at a time of budget crunching," added Janice Wilson Stridick, president of the board of Preservation New Jersey, a statewide nonprofit advocacy group.

The study showed that historic preservation activities generated $580 million annually in direct economic activity in the state. Using a multiplier effect, the report says that direct benefits on an annual basis translate into, among other things, 10,140 jobs, $263 million in payroll and business earnings and $293 million in local and state taxes.

As part of those benefits, the report also says that historic properties in New Jersey -- valued at $6 billion -- pay $120 million in annual property taxes and have a higher market value because of their designation as historic sites. New Jersey has about 1,100 properties individually listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places and thousands more in 240 historic districts, according to state figures.

"There are real dollars to be made in historic preservation," said Listokin, noting that its "economic pump-priming effect" was greater than some alternative investments. For example, the study reports, every $1 million spent on historic rehabilitation generates 38.3 jobs, $1.3 million in payroll and business earnings and $202,000 in state taxes, compared with 36 jobs, $1.2 million in income and $189,000 in taxes from new construction projects.

The study also points out that 9.1 million tourists visit New Jersey's historic sites each year and spend $432 million."Heritage tourism is an area that has not been fully exploited in the state," said Listokin.

The $70,000 study was financed by state and federal grants, notably from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training of the Federal Department of the Interior, which provided $40,000. The center is making the study available to other state historic preservation organizations and a summary of its highlights to targeted groups such as urban planners and developers, said Marc R. Gilberg, research coordinator at the center.

The report was done for the New Jersey Historic Trust, a quasi- public agency within the state's Department of Environmental Protection that awards matching grants to projects involving historic buildings owned by government agencies or nonprofit groups.

Two projects in the state that received grants from the trust in recent years underscore the economic benefits of historic preservation. …

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