There are a number of strategies that revitalization programs can adopt to achieve their vision, ranging from small projects such as new planters and benches to large projects such as totally reconstructing Main Street. This section presents some basic strategies your community may want to consider.
Communities throughout the Adirondack Park have a rich assortment of properties with architectural, historical, archeological and cultural significance. These properties may include residences, public or commercial buildings, barns or bridges. Preserving these facilities is often a central component of downtown revitalization programs. Historic preservation creates a bond between a community and its citizens, stabilizes neighborhoods and creates viable business districts and effectively targets areas appropriate for public attention. Historic downtowns also provide a diversity of space and rent levels not found elsewhere in the community. Downtowns in general and historic buildings in particular provide excellent locations for start-up small businesses.
Historic preservation can encompass a number of goals. Your effort may want to preserve and maintain sites and structures that serve as reminders of the local social and architectural history. Another goal may be one of preserving neighborhood character and civic pride through neighborhood conservation. Or, you might want to improve the local economy by encouraging expenditures for restoration work, adaptively reusing buildings and promoting tourism related to historic resources. Historic preservation plans articulate the goals for the local community and provide an organizing framework for efforts to preserve historic properties. Preservation plans often include a survey of historic resources in the community. The plans also help to eliminate uncertainty about the meaning of historic preservation ordinances and form the legal basis for the adoption of a preservation ordinance. Some potential preservation planning strategies follow.
Establish a Historic Resources Commission
Local resource commissions are established by local ordinances and members are usually appointed by the municipal governing body (e.g., mayor and town/village council) to oversee implementation of the local preservation ordinances. The commission’s primary purposes are to survey and designate local historic districts and landmarks, to restrict their demolition and to ensure their character is protected through design review. Some specific strategies such a commission can pursue are:
- Promote flexible building-code interpretation and streamlining of local approval processes to facilitate rehabilitation of historic properties.
- Promote the use of federal tax credits, state and federal grants, by providing information and assistance regarding applying for funds.
- Establish suggested guidelines for building rehabilitation, focusing on color, façade, awnings, and other exterior elements. Hire an outside consultant to help the process if you feel it is warranted.
- Prepare a historic district guidebook. Arrange walking tours of downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.
Establish Historic Designations
Creating a downtown historic district is often an effective early step in downtown revitalization. A community may only have one property of prehistoric or historic significance or it may have several historic properties that together may constitute an historic district. The presence of historic or prehistoric properties in a community provides community identity and helps foster a special sense of place and an association with the past. A growing number of communities have sought to protect and enhance historic structures in a variety of ways.
One common tool is to list buildings with the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places–the official list of the nation’s cultural resources that are worthy of preservation. Adirondack Architectural Heritage nominates sites for listing on the National Register of Historic Places; please contact our Community Outreach Director, Ellen Ryan at: email@example.com for more information.
Once a building is listed on the register, there are substantial tax incentives available for rehabilitation, although some restrictions may apply. Rehabilitation investment tax credits are the most widely used incentive program. Certain expenses incurred in connection with the rehabilitation of an old building are eligible for a tax credit. Rehabilitation investment tax credits are available to owners and certain income-producing properties. Visit the New York State Historic Preservation Office website (www.nysparks.state.ny.us) to learn more about the New York State and Federal Tax Credit programs. They should be consulted prior to beginning any rehabilitation project.
The charitable contribution deduction is taken in the form of a preservation easement and enables the owner of a “certified historic structure” to receive a one-time tax deduction. A preservation easement usually involves the preservation of a building’s façade by restricting the right to alter its appearance. For more information about preservation easements, visit Easements located in the Resources section of the website.
National Register of Historic Places
The National Register of Historic Places was established under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. The National Register includes properties of national, state, and local interest. To be listed on the register, a property should be at least fifty years old, should not have been significantly altered and must meet at least one of five criteria: (1) has association with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of history; (2) has association with the lives of persons significant in the past; (3) has architectural significance, including distinctive characteristics or methods of construction; (4) represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; and (5) yields, or is likely to yield, information important to prehistory or history. For more information regarding the National Register click here.
There are several other complementary strategies the group may want to pursue:
- Update zoning regulations. Local zoning should be consistent with historic preservation objectives. The size of proposed new buildings should be compatible with existing structures. Also needing attention are provisions such as allowable floor area, off-street parking and side- and rear-yard requirement for residences.
- Stress building reuse. Promote the adaptive reuse of historical buildings and complexes. Create an inventory of industrial buildings with an eye toward reuse potential. Update local building codes to encourage adaptive reuse of industrial facilities.
Improving Downtown’s Appearance
There are many ways to make your downtown successful. It is important to consider business location, display, product selection, and marketing techniques. However, the appearance of your downtown is paramount to the overall health of the downtown economy. Therefore, in order to draw people to the downtown it must not only be functional, but also include a façade that offers a sense of place and well-being.
Downtown groups should try to provide an intimate and distinct character for the downtown. For instance, they may create a warm feel to the downtown by building a pedestrian friendly atmosphere or by highlighting its historic charm and architecture. Such efforts include responsibility and action by a number of local groups, including planning boards, chambers of commerce, cultural societies, community associations, individual business owners, residents, shoppers, and visitors. Each group’s role will vary and more than likely those who live and own property in the community will offer the most direct assistance. Regardless, the first goal should be to unite all camps so that revitalization is a joint process.
Improving downtown’s appearance is best achieved by local groups working together to portray a healthy economy, to highlight the richness of the community (cultural, historical, environmental, etc.), and to create an ambience indicative of those factors. Thus, the downtown group may want to establish a streetscape improvement plan, which is designed and coordinated by community members with the assistance of a professional consultant. This approach for downtown public spaces can incorporate efforts by owners of private spaces, which combined provide the essential elements for creating downtown’s overall, unique physical character. The basic components of that plan may include:
To make downtown attractive, creating and maintaining cleanliness is an essential step. This is the first impression of your downtown that visitors will get as they pass through. To look good both public and private spaces must be clear of debris. In order to ensure that the downtown is kept in pristine condition regular maintenance is a must. Possible actions in a local clean-up program include:
- Identify problem areas.
- Define a public space maintenance plan.
- Honor merchants who clean up their own spaces; from plaques to tax breaks.
- Research government façade rebate programs.
- Declare a community pride day with organized clean-up efforts completed by volunteers.
- Install garbage cans and recycling bins in strategic locations throughout downtown; volunteer groups can be rewarded by reaping the benefits of recycled goods.
- Offer incentives such as scholarships and trophies to individuals who display leadership and commitment to the effort.
- Design an “adoption” plan for maintaining the cleanliness of public areas: target groups may include scout troops, community clubs, entire schools or individual grades, religious organizations, businesses, and so forth.
Store Windows and Building Facades
There are many tactics for making buildings look lively, whether occupied or vacant. Several are low cost, but require the cooperation of the property owner.
- Decorate and light the windows of vacant buildings while they are waiting to attract new tenants; display a video illustrating local attractions or annual events or a documentation of the ongoing rejuvenation process.
- Have volunteer organizations adopt windows and stores for holiday decorating; encourage local retailers to donate materials for display.
- Showcase the downtown art scene in otherwise vacant windows; this can be the work of professionals, amateurs, or beginners of any age.
- Consider using the sides of buildings for murals that represent the business or community as a whole.
- Encourage physical improvements, such as: planters and flower boxes, benches, and awnings. These items may be sought from local nurseries, gardeners, carpenters, banks, etc., as a pure donation or rewarded by a plaque (placed on a bench, sidewalk, or planter) or even exchanged for a reciprocal favor.
Beautification and Safety
Spaces between buildings, along streets, and specific design features can be improved to make downtown visually dramatic, convenient, and safe. Once again, the cooperation of a variety of community members through the donation of goods or volunteer activities may be essential to the success of any number of these projects. Keep in mind, though that many of these suggestions can be costly.
- Plant trees to enhance beauty and shelter pedestrians; consider both low cost and low maintenance.
- Create vest pocket parks in open spaces between buildings.
- Install and use exterior lighting; antique lampposts, trees decorated with white lights, or a lighted water fountain can create a beautifully dramatic, yet safe atmosphere.
- Raise crosswalks as speed bumps for safety and to keep walking areas dry; paint lines bright colors to increase the safety of both pedestrians and motorists.
- Plan greater density to minimize travel.
- Offer seating by providing benches and picnic tables where appropriate.
Signage and Directional Assistance
Presentation of what the downtown has to offer by way of signs, banners, and maps can be effective marketing tools.
- Survey streets, storefronts, government buildings, and public areas in order to identify the need for improved signage.
- Coordinate and commission attractive signs that identify and link travelers, by car as well as by foot, to the community’s high traffic destination points.
- Design and hang banners that promote local events, such as festivals, exhibits, and combined retail sales.
- Consider decorating streetlights or electric poles with banners or flags that represent the season or history of the community; an effective way to obtain such items is through a craft fair competition in which the winners are honored by display of their products.
- Offer rewards to encourage local business signage improvement efforts. Recognize unique presentations or plans–a shared style that will promote synergy throughout the downtown.
- Design and give away a map illustrating downtown routes and local attractions. This can be funded by donations from businesses, groups and organizations, which are rewarded by inclusion on the map and possibly advertising space.
Parking and Traffic Flow
Congestion and inadequate parking can discourage downtown travel. Your group should examine the amount, type, use, and location of parking spaces as well as traffic routing. Any changes should be incorporated into the design and implementation of downtown projects. Remember that the goal is to turn motorists into pedestrians and to encourage walking throughout the downtown.
- Analyze parking needs and availability; consider the amount and convenience of parking for patrons, residents and employees alike.
- Surface parking lots should not be located directly along the main street, but behind main street buildings.
- Parking facilities should blend with the prevailing architecture of the downtown.
- Both surface parking lots and buildings should be well managed, structurally maintained, clean, and well landscaped.
- On-street parking alternatives should be considered. For instance, parallel parking may be safest, narrow streets may make on-street parking impossible, and wide streets may provide for the opportunity to create drive-in parking which would increase the number of spaces and add to the uniqueness of the downtown.
In addition to location and availability of parking spaces, safe and efficient flow of both vehicles and pedestrians must be encouraged. Strategies include:
- Voluntary reservation of the most convenient parking spaces for business patrons.
- Further signage that identifies and directs motorists to all the parking facilities located within the town.
- Make downtown parking and traffic flow more pedestrian-friendly by adjusting the timing of streetlights, providing walkways and crosswalks, and enforcing laws such as jaywalking and failure to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.