Historical Renovation: Challenging but Rewarding

By Turner Burton, Vice President

Historic renovations are some of the most rewarding projects we work on, because we are helping to improve a community while preserving a piece of its history. But they are challenging. For developers, a historical renovation is more expensive, takes more time, and requires an extremely detailed review process. New construction is often the more cost efficient and easier option. You could tear a building down, build a new modern structure, and get the same return on your investment — for less money and let’s face it, less headaches. That being said, historic renovations offer a significant value to the community. So, if you’re thinking about taking on the challenge, here are a few things you should know.

The best thing you can do for your project, is to get your contractor and design team together as early in the preconstruction phase as possible. Restoring a historical landmark is detailed work that involves an extremely thorough review process. This process can be even more complex if you are applying for state or federal tax credits. Your contractor and design team need to work together to identify qualified expenditures where tax credits can be applied, so they can create a firm budget that will hold throughout the project. If you are counting on tax credits in your budget, you can’t afford added expenses on the back end of the project.

An experienced contractor who has done historical reconstruction before can also help guide you through some of the hot button issues that are important to state preservation officers. For example, our project team on the nearly 100-year-old Federal Reserve Building in Birmingham, Alabama worked closely with the National Parks Service for weeks to get approval of the custom replica windows. These approvals take time, and your project team should plan for them in the schedule.

Once your design is approved at the state or federal level, quality control is critical. When the building is finished, it will be inspected again to make sure the construction followed the approved plans. This is again where experienced builders and designers make all the difference. When you are looking at bids for your projects, look for the teams who have been through the process before and understand the importance of precision and planning.

Selfishly, I love historical renovations because the challenge is fun. It’s a different set of rules and requires a problem-solving level of thinking. Our teams have had success renovating historical buildings — repurposing them for new uses in their communities. I urge developers who are considering a historical renovation project to consider the process an opportunity to preserve a piece of history and positively impact a community. Sometimes the more challenging projects are the most rewarding.