South Orange Commission Makes Economic Case for Village Hall Preservation

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Historic preservation makes economic sense.

That was argument made by Gary Hill, chairman of the South Orange Historic Preservation Commission, on Monday night, December 8, as he presented a letter to the South Orange Board of Trustees.

“This letter is a follow up of our original letter to you on Sept. 8.,” said Hill. He said that the purpose of the letter was to emphasize “with additional evidence” the positive impact that historic preservation can have on communities. Hill specifically mentioned South Orange Village Hall — “to show that buildings such as town hall are important to the community and add value.”

Currently, seven pre-qualified bidders have received packages for the renovation of South Orange Village Hall. Proposals and bids are due Jan. 22, 2015. The village has earmarked up to $6.9 million in funds for asbestos abatement and renovation of the hall. The village has received $839,000 in grants to offset that cost.

The village has also issued a parallel request for proposals for the sale and adaptive re-use of the historic Village Hall. In November, Village Administrator Barry Lewis reported that that request has elicited interest from some parties. Responses for Village Hall sale and adaptive re-use are due December 30.

The HPC letter used data “gathered primarily from a research study specific to communities in New Jersey conducted by The Rutgers Center for Urban Policy Research” and published in 1997. The name of the study is “Economic Impacts of Historic Preservation” (Lahr et al.).

The letter pointed to study findings such as “$123 million in historic rehabilitation is effected annually in New Jersey. Of this, $84 million — more than half — is involved in rehabilitating nonresidential historic properties [such as Village Hall].” The Rutgers study also provided data on heritage tourism. Finally, the HPC included three quotes from local residents to support the claim that historic preservation attracts home buyers. (See the full letter below.)

Trustee Steve Schnall, liaison to the HPC, thanked Hill:  “I just want to single out the Commission. I thought they did a really good job in not only taking an ideological stand but actually an economic and quantitative approach to their beliefs and actually I think that was very valuable and app your sharing and having referenced sources behind it makes it even more powerful, and we will certainly consider it.”

Trustee Sheena Collum asked Hill how the HPC was differentiating between historic structures being preserved for adaptive reuse vs. historic structures being preserved for municipal use. Hill said that the study did not differentiate.

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