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Home Inclusiveness Buffalo's Young Preservationists Interview
Interview with Buffalo's Young Preservationists Organization
Buffalo's Young Preservationists is an energized group of young preservation professionals and university students in Buffalo, New York. Read about them at https://buffalosyoungpres.wordpress.com, https://twitter.com/PreserveBuffalo, and Facebook: Buffalo's Young Preservationists.
Christina Lincoln is the former director of operations for Preservation Buffalo Niagara. She holds a Masters degree in Urban Planning, Design and Development and a graduate certificate in historic preservation from Cleveland State University's Levin College of Urban Affairs. While in Cleveland, she helped to found City Beautiful, a young professionals group dedicated to preservation and sustainable urban design. Since moving back home to Buffalo, she is now active with Buffalo's Young Preservationists and helped to found Design ROI which focuses on urban design and development in Buffalo. She authored the National Treasure nomination for the Chautauqua Amphitheater and was recently published by the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative in the Historic Preservation edition of Urban Infill.
Bernice Radle is the owner of Buffalove development which aims to bring vacant spaces and places back to life. She was awarded the Peter H. Brink award by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2014 for her preservation-related work in Buffalo. She is a steel magnolia!
Derek King is a member of Buffalo's Young Preservationists and is on the executive board of the public transportation advocacy group Citizens for Regional Transit. He is also an architectural historian at and part-owner of Preservation Studios, LLC, a consulting firm that specializes in services relating to historic tax credit programs.
What led you to your field?
BYP is a group of young people dedicated to historic preservation and promoting strong communities in Buffalo, NY. Our fields vary - there are teachers, urban planners, real estate developers, and so much more in our group! Many of us are urban planners or real estate professionals who by trade and education learned and have first-hand experience with the positive benefits that preserving historic buildings brings to our communities.
How does what you do relate to historic preservation?
Bernice: As a real estate developer in Buffalo, NY, I know first-hand how to save and restore vacant buildings which then helps to create and maintain jobs, adds public pride and economic value in the form of increased tax rolls as each house I save once again starts paying taxes to our city.
Chrissy: Most of us own our own homes, and Buffalo has the oldest average housing stock in the country, so we're all working with older materials and shop at salvage lots. I personally have a graduate certificate in historic preservation (including materials conservation) and a masters in planning, design, and development and for a time was the director of operations for the local non-profit preservation group. We're all educated in preservation in some way and have seen it benefit our city.
Why do you think historic preservation matters?
Bernice: As a real estate professional and certified building scientist, I know that the greenest building is the one that is still standing. The materials in our historic housing stock cannot be replaced. To me, saving and restoring these materials and these houses before they go to a landfill really adds value to our community but also celebrates materials that are extremely valuable and irreplaceable.
Chrissy: Preservation matters because it's what gives our communities identity. That CVS or Walgreens? That could be anywhere. But our older building stock was built organically and with our specific community's needs in mind, so the buildings are unique and tell our story and ours alone.
What courses do you recommend for students interested in this field?
Bernice: URBAN PLANNING!!! Always and forever.
Chrissy: Community development, planning, and any materials conservation courses you can get into. Those have helped me the most in identifying potential building failures and why they're happening. But planning and community development help you to understand neighborhoods and their needs. Economics too! That will help you to understand the money aspects and how to determine if a project is feasible.
Do you have a favorite preservation project? What about it made it special?
For the last four years, BYP created and worked diligently on the "Save Trico" campaign in an effort to halt the demolition of the six-story warehouse where the Trico Windshield Wiper Blade was invented and manufactured. The story is a long one, but let's just say after many attempts to landmark it, petition the neighborhood, and follow all the standard rules, we knew we needed to get creative to save this building. It was our DIY "Save Trico" campaign that made the community notice. With a tag line of "Don't let it get wiped away" on T-shirts, buttons, and stickers, a great blog, fundraising enough money for a secondary structural study to challenge the owners' structural study, chalking "Save Trico" on a main roadway, and one BYP'er getting a "Save Trico" tattoo... we had a win on our hands! Shortly after the tattoo, the reuse of the building was announced thanks to our campaign delaying the demolition and one amazing developer who saw its real potential. SAVE TRICO!!!
Our "Heart Bombing" campaign has also been a great success. It started in 2012 with four houses on the city's demolition list. Two of those are now saved and have been rehabbed. It sounds so simple, but it has spread to many other cities throughout the country and it brings attention to buildings that people would otherwise drive by.
Can you tell us what you are working on right now?
Chrissy: Right now, there are many BYP'ers who are working on multiple projects. A mixed use building that had been neglected by its owners for decades in an up and coming part of the city, successfully saved with a group effort of community members and even a BYP member (Bernice) who tried to purchase the building. A couple of us wrote a local landmark nomination for a brick farmhouse on the severely neglected east side, and the owners pulled the demolition notice after hearing of our efforts. We are now hoping for a successful reuse of the property. We are also working on a clean-up and reuse of the large Wildroot headquarters building, an effort that some of us have put our own money, time, and effort into. These efforts include getting renderings of what a rehabbed Wildroot could look like and determining the next phases of a plan to own the building. Some members are homesteaders and bought dollar homes that were previously up for demolition - these are no small rehab projects. There have been multiple efforts of repurposing vacant lots, board and seals of neglected buildings with potential, and also helping out other groups like the Western New York Minority Media Professionals. They own and are planning a restoration of the historic Broadway Theater, and we helped them clean out the building (saving important pieces for replication, of course) and board and secure it from the elements. So on top of all of our individual efforts, it's important to partner with and support like-minded organizations to help get things done.
How do you think the national historic preservation programs help your community?
Chrissy: The commercial tax credit has helped Buffalo tremendously. The federal 20 percent partnered with New York's 20 percent make projects feasible and has saved many buildings in our downtown core. Buffalo is one of the largest users of the tax credit program in New York, and it has become critical to saving our old building stock. We're also lucky here to have a residential tax credit program through the state. That incentive to own an older home has preserved the character of our neighborhoods, and Buffalo truly is a city of neighborhoods.
Derek: The usage of the historic tax credit program in Buffalo highlights the financial realities of most Rust Belt real estate markets, not just in western New York. Many rehabilitation projects in Legacy Cities suffer from a "gap" in their financing, mainly resulting from the fact that lower rents in their markets can't justify the prohibitive rehab costs. The federal HTC program is one of the best examples of a subsidy that not only allows creative adaptive reuses to bring new life to old buildings and stagnant downtowns, but has actually generated more tax revenue than it has given tax credits over the course of its lifetime.
Do you have advice for novice preservationists?
Bernice: Don't be afraid to stand up for what you believe in, but make sure you do it in a sweet, serious and stealthy way. Be a steel magnolia!
Chrissy: The important thing to remember is being respectful and always bring an answer. The odds are, both parties ultimately want the same thing - a successful project. Working together is the best way to get that done and to create a future preservationist! When being nice doesn't work? That's when you rally and make a lot of noise. But always be respectful.
The ACHP's mission is "preserving America's heritage;" can you give us an example of how your community is preserving its heritage?
Buffalo is known for its historic preservation projects. From the current renovation of the H.H. Richardson complex to our nearly complete $50 million restoration of the Darwin D. Martin house by Frank Lloyd Wright - we do preservation well... very well. Currently the preservation tide is turning a bit with a focus on smaller projects - houses, blocks, and corner taverns are among the most important buildings to BYP because they are the places that make a community stronger which ultimately helps to preserve the building and community!
How do advocacy groups play a role in historic preservation?
Advocacy groups are important because many of us, aside from having a formal education in planning and preservation, also have big ideas and are able to think outside the box. BYP, as opposed to a more formally organized non-profit, is also able to take a few more risks. We can be loud about an effort, if need be, and we are also not afraid to do more hands on work in the community such as boarding up neglected buildings and organizing clean- ups. Those are things that a formal organization can't do. More formal groups have critical partnerships however. They are typically in direct communication with the State Historic Preservation Office and can guide residents and other interested parties to programs and grants. Advocacy groups in Buffalo have saved some of our most beautiful architectural gems like Louis Sullivan's Guaranty Building and our Shea's Theatre.
Why should young professionals be active in historic preservation? How do they assist the aim of historic preservation?
Young professionals should be active because historic buildings create our place, and those places are our future. Most young people in Buffalo have invested in the city and live and work Downtown. The character is essential in telling our story - where we came from and what we strive to be.
We assist in hands-on work, advocacy, and breathing new life into something that we see as an asset and not a liability. Most of us don't remember when the industry was here or when it left. We see potential in all of those things in a different way than someone who was affected by its closing. We didn't see our city in its down years - we only know where we want it to go in the future, and most of us are willing to take a few risks to help us get there.
How does BYP interact with the City of Buffalo and its officials in trying to meet its mission?
BYP works with everyone - all groups and municipalities - on solutions to the preservation issues we face in the community. We work together with the right groups to make effective change - that often brings BYP into many places including the common council chambers to work directly with the common council, housing court to fight for action on a non-responsive owner, petitioning into the neighborhoods to save a building, and so much more.
One of our legislators referred to BYP as a small army. It is always fun to storm city hall with 50 passionate people for a 2 p.m. meeting on a Tuesday...We may not have guns and shields, but we wouldn't argue with his statement!