Patience, Perseverance and Partnerships in Historic Downtown

Beaufort Historic Foundation

22 Jan Patience, Perseverance and Partnerships in Historic Downtown

In many large cities, urban development or redevelopment means that bulldozers tear down a block or more of old structures then replace them with shiny new buildings. This model, fortunately, does not work in Beaufort because we must preserve our salvagable historic structures and maintain the unique character of our city’s fabric.

For years, preservationists and city officials have struggled to find the best way to save dilapidated historically significant properties  as an alternative to letting them be removed or fall to the ground.  Thanks to the leadership of The Historic Beaufort Foundation, this is one model that seems to be successful and applied in other cases.

This is how it works.

Harnessing matching dollars from the Community Development Block Grant Program, the City readied Duke Street by installing new sidewalks, on street parking, a freshly paved street and streetscape of new lighting and trees.

City and County Councils adopted what is commonly known as the Bailey Bill (named for former Charleston Legislator Jimmy Bailey)  which is a special property tax incentive for the rehabilitation of historic buildings.  (If a property owner invests a minimum of 75% of their building’s assessed value back into the building, and the work is eligible and approved, then the assessed value of the property is “frozen” at the pre-rehabilitation value for the next 10 years.)

Deploying dollars from their revolving Preservation Fund, The Historic Beaufort Foundation, partnering with The Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation and receiving a  modest federal grant,  stabilized the seemingly unsalvageable  former Frogmore Masonic Lodge and boarding house.

Within days of being put on the market for sale, Glenn and Jenny Evans of Paradise Point Construction, purchased the property and will restore the tall two-story structure. This is the second such project the Evans’ are taking on in the downtown area. Hopefully, others will follow.

This a great prototype for future development through collaboration. HBF will take the proceeds from the sale of Frogmore Lodge and invest in stabilizing another historically significant structure and find another buyer.

While this is a good model for saving important abandoned structures, this alone does not solve the larger challenge of giving the neighborhood the attention it has earned locally and nationally.  There are many homes that remain occupied but are in need of serious attention if they are going to survive. We do not want to lose the home or we certainly do not want to lose the residents, (to gentrification)  who likely have deep roots in this unique neighborhood much of which was built by freedmen after the Civil War.

Last week real estate broker John Trask III and developer Dick Stewart presented yet another model. While there are many details to be worked out and the model must be tested, they propose to make available,  at very affordable prices with low interest financing, small cottages, also known as dependency units, that through rental income have the potential of helping a property owner generate funds to better maintain the primary property.  City.  The developers are asking  the City for fast track approvals of the factory built cottages. Assuming no two cottages that look alike are placed adjacent to one another without differing elevations, and that we do not end up with a neighborhood with cookie cutter new structures, this is a novel idea worth pursuing.  It offers property owners a source of revenue and also the potential for small affordable rental units which are in great demand for teachers, medical workers and other government and private employees.

The neighborhood called the Northwest Quadrant did not deteriorate overnight and it will not be saved overnight.  But these are two of what should be a handful of strategies for getting more work underway.

The biggest challenge is to make sure that those who live in the neighborhood rise with the tide and are not washed away by the renewed interest in downtown living.