Greene’s History Notes: Historic Preservation Means Economic Development | Columnists

About a year ago, my last “refrigerator worthy” article, which I know many of you have diligently cut out and hung on your Frigidaires, Kelvinators, and various other coolers for future handy reference. We were about to have another one, and I know I can’t keep writing these stories about cemeteries, old maps, and the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse, no matter how much I love it . Anyway, get your scissors ready and repeat this after me: HISTORICAL PRESERVATION IS ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. Spray this on your cars, tattoo it on your forehead if you need to, but please don’t forget it.

There are many readers of this column who, like me, don’t think they need a detailed explanation of why demolishing historic buildings is wrong. The obvious reality of such decisions is that incalculable damage is done to the cultural and historical integrity of the communities where these buildings disappear; perhaps more alarming and less thoughtful is that the decision not to preserve also affects a community’s bottom line. Money talks, as they say, and where you might see an old building as a money pit, the reality is that strategic maintenance not only creates unique, highly marketable real estate, but preserves the appeal of the community as a single place. a place of business and a tourist destination. To put it simply: by keeping historic buildings, you protect your tax base. To put it more simply: historic buildings provide funding for your fire, ambulance, police and public works services.

In a place like Greene County, where tourism has been a vital part of our economy for literally two centuries, our historic buildings are part of what makes us a unique and attractive destination. Anyone can build a tin prefab and bulldoze an old house, but half of America has already fallen victim to this short-sighted “linear mall thinking” in which highways take us from town to town. city ​​filled with the same reprehensible developments of McMansion, chain stores, and fast food franchises. Is it practical? Yes. Does that make one mall city more appealing to stop by than another? Absolutely not. Not being attractive is bad for tourism. Not being a tourist destination is bad for tax revenue. You see what I mean.

Now I know most people’s impression of historic preservation is that it involves young couples with trust funds fleeing a metro area to buy a half-collapsed, haunted mansion they’re dumping millions into dollars in renovations and fabulous antiques. I’ve certainly met people who have done historic preservation this way, and hey, if you have the money, great. I’ve also found that these people often become full-time employees and invest in being part of their new communities in ways other than just increasing the tax assessment of their homes. If it’s a version of historic preservation, you don’t have to look far for alternative examples.

I am writing this article at one of my favorite cafes just up the road from the Thompson House Resort in Windham. The resort is closed right now, but not dead by any stretch of the imagination. Entrepreneurs swarm like ants over every square inch of every building on the vast campus; repairing roofs, siding and making updates to a hotel complex that has been a Windham institution since the 1880s. Thompson House is a benefactor of two forms of historic preservation. The first and most obvious is the work done by new owner Wylder Resorts, which is a monumental effort by a company that specializes in resorts in unique and classic destinations in the United States (yes, Greene County made that cut!). Equally important is the little-known but heroic preservation effort undertaken by the last owners, the Thompson/Goettsche family, who for generations maintained and expanded the campus as time and finances permitted while repairing leaks, updating older pieces and cultivating a family atmosphere. seaside town that had become so iconic that it caught the eye of John Margolies when he was photographing America in the 1970s. The Goettsche family’s preservation efforts were thankless – maintaining the buildings instead of letting them fall into ruin, keeping the structures rather than replacing them with new ones, and above all finding a buyer who valued the property and the buildings as much as his family had for over a century. .

If the efforts of the Thompsons and a national resort corporation aren’t enough to convince you that the “in the know” understand that historic preservation is synonymous with economic development, just ask the bank. Two weeks ago I found myself in the basement of the Tanners Bank building on Main Street in Catskill with a small group of history buffs. The building was recently purchased by the Bank of Greene County from Trustco and will be part of the suite of historic BOGC office buildings that already dot Main Street. This was exciting news as BOGC already has a renowned reputation as conservators dating back to the 1990s – saving buildings such as the striking art deco Cooperative Mutual Insurance building near the Greene County Courthouse.

As we all stood in a basement vault looking at Tanners Bank minutes dating back to 1831, Greene County Bank President Don Gibson spoke enthusiastically about giving back to the interiors of the building their original appearance and to fill the offices of employees. While the building updates will certainly make Tanners Bank look great, the effort to reopen the building also illustrates a bigger benefit – guaranteed traffic from Main Street employees and more money spent on lunch meetings , in cafes and by bank customers who come to do business there. It’s only fitting that Tanners Bank, once the headquarters of Greene County’s largest commercial bank, now plays a role in Main Street’s preservation.

If you’re like me, your money tree hasn’t started growing Benjamins on its branches yet, but that doesn’t mean historic preservation isn’t within your reach. While everyone I’ve spoken to here is certainly exemplary of the best historic preservation has to offer, being a curator takes many forms. Most often, it’s fixing a leaky roof one year, and maybe putting a coat of paint on a weathered side of the house the next. Historic preservation is an effort that can be done in small and large steps with equal success, and the end result is a unique building that helps make your community an unusual and special place. Historic preservation is economic development.

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