Anthony Ronzio’s column “Sometimes, a landmark building’s potential has just come and gone” on Sept. 21 raises some good points, but it reaches the wrong conclusion.

As his column noted, the Brookings/GrowSmart Maine 2006 study calls buildings like the Augusta YMCA part of Maine’s “good bones.”

Many of our citizens have sentimental attachments — even deep commitments — to these individual landmarks, and to the downtowns and historic neighborhoods around them.

What is missing from the column is mention that these historic buildings are economic catalysts for Maine. They provide quality of life, attracting residents, visitors and retirees; they are the core of our property tax base; and they are a vital part of our future economic development.

Also not mentioned is consideration of the economic conditions since this 2006 study, the same year that the Augusta YMCA was purchased by its current owner.

Like the rest of the nation, Maine has suffered from a period of economic distress, and no sector has felt it more deeply than real estate. But one positive factor in real estate in Maine is historic properties. Instead of singling out a few buildings in distress, it is more accurate to report that preservation of historic buildings is the most effective economic stimulus for our communities.


Since its passage in 2008, the Maine Historic Preservation tax credit has been a catalyst for 30 privately developed historic building rehabilitation projects, investing more than $140 million in projects completed or under construction.

This program is administered by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, with projects located all over the state. These projects reuse our existing infrastructure — roads, water, sewer and utilities — and the vast majority are in or near downtowns. Buildings that previously have been eyesores are now community assets.

In an Economic Impact Report commissioned by Maine Preservation earlier this year, Frank O’Hara, author for Planning Decisions, wrote: “When a historic building is fixed in a neighborhood, it stimulates investment and enterprise from neighboring property owners, creating new jobs and more revenue to local government. A rehabilitated historic building on Main Street brings customers to other downtown businesses, and improves the image and ‘brand’ of the community.”

For these and other reasons, the Legislature this year extended the historic tax credit for 10 years.

The Main Street program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, subtitled, “economic development in the context of historic preservation,” has become the nation’s downtown revitalization program. Through the Maine Development Foundation’s Maine Downtown Center, 26 towns and cities are using this proven strategy.

Downtown reinvestment statistics from the nine Main Street Maine towns include: $130 million of private and public improvements (with each public dollar leveraging 25 private dollars); more than 200 net new businesses and 850 new jobs created; and more than 500 buildings rehabilitated or improved.


In addition, this approach produces diverse housing, tourism, cultural enhancement and dynamic commercial districts. These benefits arise from the adaptive use of the unique stock of historic buildings in each community.

But such projects take time. The shift from a manufacturing economy did not occur all at once, our state economy is not being transformed all at once, and these buildings will not all be rehabilitated all at once. What is required is patience, creative strategies, professional preservation guidance — and the determination to follow through.

Proof of historic preservation’s success is located throughout central Maine: the Old City Hall and active interest in the Flat Iron Building in Augusta; the Slates building, City Hall and the Hallowell House in Hallowell; Hathaway Mill and Gilman School in Waterville; North New Portland Community Church; Reny’s in Farmington; Lisbon Falls High School; and the Bowdoin Mill in Topsham.

Ronzio is correct that these projects are not easy to mimic, but that is no reason to urge demolition of community assets during a real estate recession, when a growing number of people are willing to do the hard work and use these new techniques to give old buildings another life.

Historic preservation results in an increased tax base, unique market edge, strong community pride and a legacy of heritage for future generations.

Now is not the time for communities to discard their historic buildings, but to recycle these assets using proven preservation tools. Those who do will continue to reap rewards as the real estate market improves. They will be ready to gain from the state’s strongest catalyst for community improvement and downtown revitalization: historic preservation.

Earle G. Shettleworth Jr. is director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. Greg Paxton is executive director of Maine Preservation. Roxanne Eflin is senior program director of Maine Downtown Center and Maine Development Foundation.

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