Tuesday, May 18, 1999
By DIRK FILLPOT
Historic preservation proponents say a recent study that shows their efforts can provide economic benefits in Texas is a long - awaited victory.
Abilene was one of nine Texas cities to participate in the study by the Center for Urban Policy Research at Rutgers University, Texas Perspectives and the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.
The study presented at a Texas Historical Commission meeting in Austin on May 1 found that costs for preserving a historic building were about equal to constructing a new building; towns with historic structures attract higher income and longer-staying tourists; and historical designations improve property values.
"It's good news for historic preservation," said Larry Abrigg, the city's historic preservation official. "I think this is something a lot of us who worked on preservation have known for quite a while."
Abrigg said he was pleased with the study's findings about economic impact of preserving buildings versus erecting new ones, tearing down a long-held belief.
"It surprises me to the extent that we were told by the development community that new construction provides more economic benefit," he said. "We almost match them dollar for dollar."
Ruby Perez, director of the Abilene Preservation League, said preservationists are now armed with facts.
Historic preservation is something people have always liked, but it was from a feel-good, nostalgic approach," Perez said. "This study gives us hard data and dollars to substantiate the benefits of historic preservation."
The study also concluded that tax incentives, such as those offered in Abilene, generate revenue for the city. It found that Abilene's $23,000 in property tax reductions for the city's 97 historic properties has generated more than $5 million in reinvestment in the city's historic neighborhoods.
The study also found preservation activities:
The study concluded that historic preservation created 40,685 jobs, $890 million in income and $1.192 billion in wealth for Texas in 1997.
Perez and Abrigg said the study's findings are well timed
because the Texas Legislature is considering funding for rehabilitating county
courthouses and whether to reduce funding for historic preservation.
Although historic preservation is not the mainstay of Abilene's tourism industry, Nanci Liles, executive director of the Convention and Tourism Bureau, said the city's history is emphasized to tourists at the visitors center where a pamphlet mapping out historical sites downtown is made available.
The city's roster of 109 historical properties may increase if the Abilene City Council grants historic overlay zoning to the Rhodes Building, future home of the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature, during its May 27 meeting.
Despite its proximity to a major metropolitan area, Denton,
Tex., (pop. 72,000) remains fiercely independent from its neighbors to the
south-Dallas and Fort Worth. The city has created its own identity and secured a
permanent place in the tourism annals of northern Texas.
In 1986, the community mounted a public campaign to restore
the Courthouse on the Square. A $3.5-million
Denton also raised $1.7 million to renovate downtown's Campus Theater and it has been worth every penny. A movie house for nearly 40 years, the theater closed its doors in 1986; a decade later, it reopened as a live theater.
Despite the changes, the theater has maintained the look and style of its heyday; it hosts approximately 54 productions and events annually and has spurred redevelopment in the surrounding area. Today, the Campus Theater anchors a growing arts and entertainment district.
Private investment in downtown has swelled to more than $18 million since 1989. There has been a net gain of 138 new businesses and more than 600 new jobs. The occupancy rate has risen from 70 to 98 percent in the last nine years, and 26 loft apartments have been created in the upper floors around the square.
Throughout the downtown area, boarded-up buildings have taken on new life as revitalization spreads outward from Courthouse Square. Special events downtown attract tens of thousands of visitors each year, adding to the vibrancy and vitality of Denton 's small-town atmosphere. Now a destination, Denton thrives on its reputation as a mecca for music, shopping, history, education, and cultural opportunities.