Skip to main content

In Canada, the value of "heritage" in "historic" properties

While visiting Halifax, Nova Scotia, recently, I was struck by the plaque (right) attached to an 1828 building--and the message about valuing "heritage" behind it. It's occupied, quite appropriately, by the Nova Scotia Association of Architects, as a photo below shows.

The building, as the plaque indicates, is a "Registered Heritage Property." According to the Nova Scotia Department of Tourism, Culture & Heritage:
The Heritage Property Act was passed in 1980, and amended in 1990. The purpose of this Act is to identify and protect built heritage--buildings, structures, districts--of historic, architectural and cultural value, and to encourage the continued use of this resource.

The term "heritage" is also used on a national scale; indeed, Canada has a Department of Canadian Heritage. According to the department's web site:
Canadian Heritage is responsible for national policies and programs that promote Canadian content, foster cultural participation, active citizenship and participation in Canada's civic life, and strengthen connections among Canadians.

And UNESCO, of course, has a World Heritage List.

The resonance of "heritage"

The word heritage, which includes among its definitions "inheritance," has a particular and enduring resonance. In other words, a heritage property should be valuable to all of us today, rather than set aside under the more common designation of "historic," which might be valued only by those who place a special value on the past.

History vs. costliness

Thus some in New York and elsewhere have resisted "historic" designations for buildings and neighborhoods, fearing that such a regulation would be costly to builders and/or deter the production of more affordable housing. And obviously it's legitimate to assess costs and benefits.

But see for example the testimony arguing that the cost of retaining a historic building in the Domino sugar refinery in Williamsburg adds to the cost of the New Domino plan. (There's pretty much consensus about that building; the dispute now is about adding buildings.)

Forest City Enterprises has a track record of converting old industrial buildings like the Ward Bakery, now slated for demolition in the Atlantic Yards plan, into housing. Forest City's Ron Ratner said in 2002, "As a developer, I am sometimes asked if we would ever be willing to sacrifice profitability to achieve excellence in historic preservation. My answer is that's a false choice. Using technical and financial creativity, and working in public-private partnerships, we can have it all, including economic return."

Not so much in the Brooklyn project, where retention of buildings would interfere with the overall project design, including sustainable elements. According to the Final Environmental Impact Statement, the partial mitigation for the loss of the bakery and another building would include “archival documentation of the buildings and additional measures that would document the history of the buildings.”

That's definitely history more than heritage, though it remains debatable whether a designation of "heritage" would have changed the cost-benefit equation.

Mixed nomenclature

Canada does seem to use the terms "heritage" and "historic" interchangeably. For example, Parks Canada states:
The Historic Places Initiative is a collaboration involving all levels of government - local, provincial, territorial and federal. Together, we have created the tools to enable Canadians to learn about, value, enjoy and conserve our country's historic places.

While there is The Canadian Register of Historic Places, there's also The Commercial Heritage Properties Incentive Fund. The initiative aims "to build Canada's culture of heritage conservation," warning of "a dramatic deterioration of Canada’s built heritage over the past 30 years."

Canada has a more collectivist ethos, as expressed in initiatives like national health insurance. The flip side, critics might say, is that the United States has more entrepreneurial energy and social mobility. (Well, social mobility seems to be lagging, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.)

In other words, here in the U.S. "heritage" might not always be as important. The National Trust for Historic Preservation emphasizes the other "h" word. Then again, some jurisdictions do use the word; for example, there's a (state of) Washington Heritage Register. And the United States was the prime architect of the World Heritage concept and the first country to ratify the World Heritage Convention, in 1973.

So maybe there's room for both.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…