Monday, June 29, 2009

We need your help today to improve the NYS Rehabilitation Tax Credit!

With all the political developments in Albany recently, you may be wondering what became of the effort to enhance the New York State Rehabilitation Tax Credit. It's been a long and interesting road for this piece of legislation, which passed the NYS Senate in May. Last week a different version of the legislation passed the NYS Assembly - which means it now goes back to the NYS Senate. And as you no doubt know, the Senate has been in a state of turmoil in the past few weeks.

Below is an update from Daniel Mackay at the Preservation League of NYS, who is spearheading efforts to get this legislation passed so that we can finally have a meaningful incentive for historic rehab in our state. The whole piece is interesting, but here is what we need you to do today:

Call the NYS Senate – Senator David Valesky (bill sponsor): 518-455-2838, with the following message: “I support Senate passage of S.6056; please include this legislation on the Senate agenda and pass before the end of session.”

Call Governor Paterson: 518-474-4246, with a request that a message be left for Deputy Secretary Larry Schwartz: “I request the Governor’s support for Senate passage of S.6056 and his subsequent signature on this critically needed rehabilitation stimulus legislation.”

Please make these calls right now, while it's on your mind - the session ends tomorrow and this legislation has to be on the priority agenda. I just called and it literally takes less than a minute per call - they simply record the fact that you called in support of the legislation, and may ask for your name & address.

Here's the full update from Daniel:

I wanted to provide an update as to where efforts to secure expanded NYS Rehabilitation Tax Credit programs stands. A flurry of activity in the last week, resulting in a late-session bill introduction in the Assembly, has reset the legislative agenda and process and our advocacy strategy has changed as well. Your calls to the NYS Senate are critical, along with a call to Governor Paterson’s office. See below for call-in information.

New legislation has been introduced in the Assembly (where it passed early Tuesday morning, June 23rd). As this legislation no longer matched the bill passed by the Senate in mid-May, new legislation matching the Assembly bill language was introduced in the Senate Tuesday afternoon. These new bills are A.9023 and S.6056 respectively, and the bill language is attached with this email.

The Senate must pass this new bill before it can go to the Governor for signature. Obviously, leadership issues need to be resolved in the NYS Senate before there will be a vote on this bill, but we are hopeful that this bill will be a priority for passage once leadership issues are resolved (an agreement may be reached in the next 48 hours).

This legislation preserves the 20% credit rate, $5 million dollar commercial project cap, and makes essential changes to the residential (owner occupied) rehabilitation program. If signed into law, these changes would represent significant steps forward for this program in New York. Unfortunately, due to concerns raised by the NYS Department of Tax & Finance, language in the original 2009 bill specifying the ability to transfer and allocate credit value within business partnerships was removed.

We are concerned with the impacts of this change and will be requesting a meeting with the Department of Tax & Finance to discuss and resolve their issues with this critical program component. We will need the involvement of developers, syndicators, and other professionals seeking to use the rehabilitation tax credit program to inform this meeting, and would welcome your involvement.

It is important to note, however, that we will not be able to secure any further changes to the current bill – the NYS Assembly has ended their regular legislative session. A.9023/S.6056 is the only bill in play at this time.

As such, we are pushing for Senate passage and the Governor’s signature of the current bill legislation. Although this bill omits the transferability language, these bills upgrade program components across the board, and establish key features of the New York State Tax Credit programs at desired levels. As such, it represents a significant step forward for the NYS credit programs.

Passage of this bill will also allow us to focus our complete advocacy on one program feature – the need to establish a clear and effective credit transferability mechanism in the NYS commercial rehabilitation program. We will renew our efforts to secure this immediately after we have this bill signed into law.

We know you may be frustrated with this incremental approach to policy development regarding New York’s program. However, we hope you will support Senate passage and the Governor’s signature on this current legislation by advocating to secure these initial changes, and then joining us to address the remaining impediment to a robust and catalytic rehabilitation stimulus program in NYS.

Calls to the NYS Senate – Senator David Valesky (bill sponsor): 518-455-2838, with the following message: “I support Senate passage of S.6056; please include this legislation on the Senate agenda and pass before the end of session.”

Calls to Governor Paterson: 518-474-4246, with a request that a message be left for Deputy Secretary Larry Schwartz: “I request the Governor’s support for Senate passage of S.6056 and his subsequent signature on this critically needed rehabilitation stimulus legislation.”

While the NYS Senate has not yet resolved leadership issues, the Senate faces a June 30th deadline for a number of critical bills (sales tax extenders, among others). As such, it is the hope that our calls, beginning today, secure a place on the priority agenda for S.6056.

Please email me with any questions or concerns (dmackay AT We need your involvement to push this program forward.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Director of Preservation Services


2010 Dozen Distinctive Destinations application now online


2010 Dozen Distinctive Destinations application is now online:

The Dozen Distinctive Destinations program recognizes unique cities and towns that are working to preserve their historic character, promote heritage tourism, enhance their community and encourage others to enjoy all they have to offer. Each year since 2000, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has selected 12 destinations across America that offer an authentic visitor experience by combining dynamic downtowns, diverse cultural activities, attractive architecture and a strong commitment to historic preservation, sustainability and revitalization.

Be sure to nominate your unique city or town! Deadline is September 1, 2009

posted by Laura Keeney Zavala, Director of Marketing


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Act Now to Support Tax Credits for Sensitive Energy Upgrades

Have you heard about the tax credits available for weatherization? So far, those incentives have only been available for new materials like replacement windows, and therefore aren't available to owners of historic buildings who want to maintain their character.

A piece of legislation is going before Congress tomorrow that can change that. The American Clean Energy and Security Act includes a very important provision, the Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance Program, that allows building owners to get tax credits for sensitive energy upgrades, like window repair and appropriate weatherization.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation's Advocacy Center has a site where you can quickly email your Congressperson an automated note in favor of this legislation. I just did it, and it took about 30 seconds! Please act now to support this legislation, as Congress is scheduled to vote on it tomorrow.

For more on appropriate energy upgrades for historic houses, please see our online publication, Rehab Rochester, and the National Park Service's Preservation Brief No. 3, Conserving Energy in Historic Buildings.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Director of Preservation Services


Why Main Street is Green

Here's a nice piece from Michigan about why characterizing historic Main Street buildings as energy hogs is unfair. Energy performance issues in older buildings typically have to do with the maintenance they've received, rather than the way they were built. Buildings constructed before WWII - in other words, before we began taking cheap energy for granted - incorporated a lot of what we would now call passive energy-conserving features like operable windows, awnings, and transoms designed to bring daylight indoors, but often those features were not maintained or were altered when a reliance on mechanized heating, cooling, and lighting became the norm. Fixing the maintenance issues can improve energy performance, at a fraction of the cost of new construction, replacement windows, or other so-called green solutions that are actually the opposite of sustainable.

And here's another article, also from Michigan, describing the projects of preservation architect Gene Hopkins, who also argues for the environmental benefits of rehabilitating historic downtown buildings. Mr. Hopkins's projects have the full support of the city manager, quoted in the article as saying, "
The city does not need any new additional buildings ... We can't afford it and there's no need, so to renovate the existing buildings has been a goal over the last two decades." It helps that Michigan has a state tax credit for rehabilitation of historic buildings, which helps make these projects especially attractive for investors - watch this space for an update on our efforts to enhance New York State's tax credit program.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Director of Preservation Services


Monday, June 22, 2009

Admirable Alexandria

Fruition of preservation concepts

I just came back from my trip to the Washington D.C. and we stayed at a friend’s place in Alexandria VA. We happened to eat in Old Towne Alexandria on our way back from Mt. Vernon. Generally, I research destinations before visiting but in this case, I did not do my due diligence about the city and was completely awed when I visited one of the most charming Old towns, I have ever been to.

Old Town Alexandria was the biggest surprise of my trip, as I was not aware of the history of this gorgeous town. Being an immigrant, my American history and geography still needs a lot of polishing. This discovery was the best

part of my trip, I would like to go back there again someday, just with the intention of visiting Alexandria.

Since I happened to find Old Town by serendipity, I did not get much chance to explore a lot but could only walk for a mile long stretch on King Street—extending from Potomac River waterfront to Old Town Alexandria. Being a preservationist, it was fascinating to see such a stupendous historic preservation project. Particularly impressive was how urban design principles were beautifully applied without compromising history. —pedestrian friendly wide walkways with tree lined cobblestone sidewalks, visual and cultural anchors on all major

intersections, centrally located public urban space, mixed use development, metro rail station linkages, wonderful graphic and store front design and preservation of rich architectural heritage. Torpedo Factory Art, an actual torpedo factory during World Wars I and II is a key anchor on the eastern end of the King Street. Sitting at the edge of Potomac Waterfront, the Center has six galleries and also houses more than 80 artists’ studios. Market square adjacent to City Hall—the country’s oldest farmers market takes place here every Saturday morning. Historically, it was the place where George Washington drilled its militia troops and also where much of the country’s slave trade took place. The rest of the days it serves as a wonderful urban public space with steps, a central fountain and landscaped features that encourages socialization, and serves as a meeting place for couples and small groups.

The entire King Street is lined with late eighteenth and early nineteenth century beautiful Italianate, Federal and Georgian architectural styled buildings which now have been rehabilitated into International cuisine restaurants, ethnic stores, chic boutiques, eclectic jewelry and antique stores. This gorgeous architecture and varied functions make this place a colored architectural and cultural mosaic.

Old Town Alexandria felt like a whiff of fresh air in this struggling field of preservation. It was a pleasant break to see thedesign principles being applied that preservationists advocate for. It was lovely to see how a town evolved over time, from being one of the ten busiest ports in America in late 18th century to today’s one of the most beautifully preserved historic districts.

Posted by Nimisha Thakur, Preservation Associate

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Celebrating a save

Yesterday, I attended the ribbon cutting at the Parazin Building, a building that appeared frighteningly close to being lost just a few years ago.

Developer Ben Kendig (who also rehabilitated the Landmark Society's offices in Corn Hill back in the 1990s) acquired the building in 2006 and, along with Bob Lindsay and Paul Sullivan, has just finished converting it into office and residential space, in keeping with the new direction High Falls is taking away from the "entertainment district" idea and toward a mixed-use neighborhood of offices and apartments. So far, this new direction seems to be a fruitful one, with the Parry Building enjoying great success as a similar mixed-use rehab and other projects coming to completion soon.

I had been particularly curious to see how this stone building could be successfully converted into apartments, given its narrow footprint. Rather than run a hallway down the center of the building, which would have left little space on either side, there is (at least on the second floor, which was open for tours) a short hallway along one side, with a big unit at each end and two smaller ones along the side for a total of four units per floor. The resulting spaces - especially those facing the gorge - have great views and wonderful light, along with the requisite granite countertops, open floor plans, and high ceilings.

It's exciting to see new projects like this coming online even in the midst of such challenging economic times. What a great example of adaptive reuse - a sensible approach at any time, but particularly important when both economic and environmental conditions point to a need to conserve, rather than squander, our resources. As Mayor Duffy noted in his remarks, this project will create jobs and provide more momentum to the ongoing turnaround in the historically significant High Falls district.

If you'd like to learn more about High Falls, check out our online self-guided tour, which you can take with you to the district (it's a few years old, and doesn't fully reflect the most recent developments in the district's transformation, but of course the historical information remains accurate) - and stay tuned for this year's Inside Downtown Tour, which will take you inside some of the most exciting new projects in and around High Falls in late September.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Director of Preservation Services


Quaint Quebec City and Magical Montreal

Landmark Society’s  Spring 2009 Overnight Tour

I realize that I have been a little late in writing this blog, but trust me I had such a hangover of this trip that it took me this long. It was a four day long motor coach trip. If you are fascinated by architecture, this trip is perhaps the best architectural treat one can get. The combination of the choice of the cities was remarkable. Although settled around the same time and colonial reign, there was such a stark difference in the architectural fabric of the two cities; this difference was something that added the special zing to this trip.

The first stop of the trip was at Quinn’s Inn- historic 1865 built stone building in Ontario. We reached Quebec City that evening around 7pm and checked into grand Le Chateau Frontenac Hotel. Staying in this hotel was the most exhilarating aspect of the trip. Standing high on a bluff with its castle like architecture, the hotel overlooks the mighty St. Lawrence River.

The next morning we started our exploration with a wonderful introductory lecture on the history of World heritage Quebec City by 
Dr. David Mendel, a PhD in art history from Laval University. The word
Quebec means where the river narrows. He mentioned that the City was founded as a Trading Post because of its strategic location on a cliff; it was the Gibraltar of North America. Quebec City was the capital of New France, then capital of British North America and today the capital of the province of Quebec. The heart of French culture in North America, with its impregnable fortification walls, the City was divided into upper and lower town. These walls are 60 feet thick with densely packed earth to take the impact of canon fire. Besieged six times in history, Quebec was finally conquered by the British in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. 
It was an extremely stimulating talk richly illustrated with historic maps, 
illustrations and photographs.

Following the talk we did a tour of majestic 1893 built Chateau Frontenac, one of a series of "château" style hotels built for the Canadian Pacific Railway company at the end of the 19th and the start of the 20th century. Additions were made to the hotel in 1908 and 1920. This chateau very much had the ancient city character which seeks a promontory. Mr. Mendel also pointed us to the archaeological dig on the site of Governor’s palace right next to the river. 

After this we did a walking tour of Upper town which included the Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral, inspired by St Martin’s church in London, built according to the plans of British officers between 1800 and 1804. Our guide mentioned about the preservation issues involved when restoring such a building. 

Our next stop was Seminary of Quebec, founded in 1663, now occupied by the School of Architecture of Laval University. It was fascinating to see the courtyard of this institution around which buildings were designed. It was a beautiful public urban space where school students were playing volley ball.

After this all of us headed to various lunch stops in lower
 town and then gathered together for the highlight stop of the day
-Place Royale. This public square, with its houses
 for the most part were rebuilt following a fire in lower town in 1682, became known as Place Royale in 1686. 
Around 1960’s following an economic downturn the Government of Quebec
 launched a major initiative aimed at giving the square the appearance it might have had at the end of French Regime. Being a preservationist, I understand that this could potentially be a controversial topic and many would feel that such a restoration is an insult to the history of the place and is like a Disneyland, creating an artificial world. Personally, I find this approach to be extremely fascinating, I felt it was an architectural marvel and was very intelligently done. All the buildings around the square have different roofing materials ranging from wooden shingles to metal sheeting and showed an evolution in building construction. This space can be treated as a didactic laboratory to illustrate a historical era, a reminder of this period. I felt this approach very much had the potential to be one of the defining guidelines in the rule book of preservation.

Quebec City felt like the closest city to Europe in North America, it was fascinating to see narrow winding streets, historic buildings, criss- crossing multi colored rooflines and alleys leading to landmarks. Although, we are in 21st century, but being in this place was reminiscent of a bygone era. After this, we headed for our architectural tour of the Parliament Building and said goodbye to our guide. This building derives inspiration from the Louvre in Paris and is a fine example of French and English architectural styles. After a break in the evening for an hour, we had a four course extravagant dinner at the hotel at their Le Champlain Restaurant.

The next morning we departed for a new adventure into the city of Montreal. We met our guide Ronaldo (he specialized in food tours and was a major in Sociology) around 11:30 in the morning. He gave us a swift history of Montreal and then we walked through Old Montreal via Place Jacques Cartier, a beautiful public urban space, built by the City in early 19th century. Although there is no trace of a fortified wall now in Montreal, but one existed in mid 1600s.

Following this, we went on a whirlwind bus ride of various neighborhoods of Montreal. We started our tour with St Jacques St- the wall street of Canada leading into Ville Marie, where we went through the Chinatown, Gay Village, Latin Quarter and Le Plateau-Mont-Royal. The most interesting feature of the Le Plateau neighborhood was the Montreal trademark beautifully designed curved exterior staircase. We also made a stop at legendary landscape architect Frederick law Olmstead designed Mount Royale Park and Expo 67 Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome site. This tour seemed like a peek into the extensive and eclectic city of Montreal, enough to motivate us to come back again. The third day of the trip ended with laughter, singing and making merry at the Cabaret Du Roy, a theme restaurant in Old Montreal that recaptured the spirit of New France, through its colorful period characters and musicians that played traditional festive music.

For the last day of the trip we still had two visual treats left, CCA – Center for Canadian Architecture and Notre Dame De Montreal. We had guided tours of both the places. CCA is one of its kind research centre and museum founded on the conviction that architecture is a public concern. The CCA shares the site of the historic Shaughnessy House built in 1874 with a new building integrated in 1989. It is a very sensitive design respectful to its past in terms of mass and design vocabulary. Our tour ended with breathtaking Basilique Notre Dame De Montreal, finest examples of Gothic Revival architecture in North America with a lunch at Restaurant Bonaparte.

To me, Montreal felt like the New York City of Canada. The most striking aspect of the city was its vibrancy in all aspects of culture, architecture, demographics, street character, connectivity and life of the city. Although it’s much smaller in scale both in terms of size and population compared to NYC, but its multi-faceted nature makes the city very likable and intriguing.

Overall this tour was certainly one of the best architectural tours one can get. On behalf of the Landmark Society, I would like to thank all the people who took this tour and made it so special. We look forward to having you for many more of our forthcoming trips!

Posted by Nimisha Thakur, Preservation Associate

Monday, June 15, 2009

175 Years Of History In 20 Minutes!

Working as an intern on a survey team of downtown buildings last summer I was often nearby, when Cynthia Howk the Landmark Society's Architectural Research Coordinator and the oracle for us "architecture groupies," would be giving one of her lunchtime downtown tours.

It was a nice respite from our team's task of documenting downtown's modern buildings and sites that, although very rewarding and revealing, could also be somewhat mundane. The tours gave us a splash of color and decoration that contrasted with our survey's focus on engineering marvels that have their own stories and sculptural qualities yet were often built with concrete and steel and lacking ornament, were rather stark. I personally find many of the "moderns" downtown to be amazing examples of their era and believe that they must be protected. Still, it sure was nice to hear about the brick, stone and terra cotta-clad buildings that came before them as I munched on a sandwich on a beautiful summer day.

This month's "Architecture for Lunch" 20 minute tours are crash courses in downtown's architectural and social history that feature many ornate and sturdy treasures of the downtown built environment from the early 1800's on. You get a lot of information on a variety of buildings and sites and even visit the interiors of some of them. However, the tours never seem rushed. When the tour ends you are left wanting to hear (and see) more. Cynthia surely understands this basic rule of showmanship. In this case, you are also left feeling that the mystery surrounding these buildings that we often see from the inside of a car has been removed and you get the sense of how you are a link in the long chain of local history. You also come to see the buildings not only as historic "museum pieces" but also as vital and working structures that are now more familiar and accessible.

The first tour of the month was centered on the area west of the Four Corners and featured buildings of the father and son team of architects: A.J. and J. Foster Warner as well as other structures associated with the period in Rochester history when it emerged as a dense and bustling city. Buildings older than the city itself were on the tour and were open for visitors to explore. Former hotels, banks, schools, courthouses and governmental buildings (and even a department store) were showcased and their current uses explained.

Cynthia showed us the cornerstone of the former Monroe County Courthouse (now the County Office Building) and told the story of the three dates carved into it. We also learned why the front door of Old City Hall (now an office building) was in the "back" of the building and how the annex to the County building was once a small outdoor park in front of our former City Hall.

Our iconic second empire "wedding cake" The Powers Block was the staring point of the tour and also where mine ended as I followed Cynthia inside and asked her a question about the building that had perplexed me for a while. The Powers Block has been the beneficiary of care and updates since its completion in late 1800's and now features a wonderful atrium and café are in its formerly open air central light court that mixes era-appropriate materials and fixtures yet is obviously modern.

Yet, there was one area of the building that I had seen in photographs and books but could never locate. The massive and ornate main staircase of the Powers Block rises throughout the building and is built of marble and cast iron. After talking with Cynthia I now knew how to find it. The staircase does not reach street level but instead begins a floor above (which is considered the first floor of the building). The guard confirmed this and, after a short elevator ride, I finally found the mystery staircase. It was worth the wait!

Perhaps foolishly, I decided to ascend the full height of the staircase and then enjoy catching my breath on the way down. I am not quite sure how it happened but I actually ended up in the cast-iron tower that Daniel Powers famously added to the building to retain bragging rights as owner of the tallest building in the city.

The view was spectacular and as I surveyed the skyline I pondered the view that Mr. Powers must have enjoyed from his office a few stories above me. I then made my way down to the street with a better understanding and appreciation for one of the city's finest examples of its history and architecture.

Posted by Dan Palmer, Landmark Society Volunteer