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Historic 'eyesores' become vital buildings.

Historic preservation and adaptive reuse projects have become a growing area of activity for real estate owners, developers and architects. They offer a variety of development and financing opportunities. The availability of agency and government financing programs make them very attractive, particularly in light of the limited private sector borrowing now available. The end result can also bring a degree of development and design recognition, achieved through the successful preservation of significant historic structures.

The restoration of historically important buildings, especially those with designated historic stature, presents challenges beyond those of the typical real estate project. The practical and aesthetic considerations of the finished building must address both the functional and economic aspects of the new use and the often conflicting aesthetic concerns of the original historic design. These considerations are further complicated if the property has a historic designation which involves stringent governmental guidelines and a myriad of regulatory approvals.

Our firm just completed an assignment as architect for the two-building 54,000-square-foot Cooke Mill preservation and adaptive reuse project in Paterson. The project required the full scope of architectural services including design, site planning, programming, technical and management services.

The building, now under construction, dates back to 1881 and is in the Great Falls Historic District. It is being transformed into a 26,500-square-foot family health center and 34 units of affordable housing from a former locomotive work and textile mill. To successfully develop the. project, a complex financing package was required. It included Low Income Housing Tax Credits of the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency; historic tax credits from the National Park Service; Private Sector Financing from The Great Falls Bank, guaranteed by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority; Balanced Housing funds from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs; an Urban Development Corporation loan; (HONE Funds City Administrated Federal Program); Regional Contribution Agreement; municipal tax abatement; a loan from the Paterson Restoration Corp.; plus developer contributions in the form of reduced fees and profits.

While making the project feasible, the involvement of multiple regulating agencies created a complicated approval process, which required the balancing of many contending interests. Each agency reviewed the design to be sure it conformed with its own particular criteria. The historic status of the property, along with the planned low income housing use, qualified it for much of the secured financing. Yet the two designations have contrasting objectives: one is to preserve existing architectural features and original building materials; (usually at considerable expense) while the other is to create comfortable low-cost quality housing. These factors further complicated the design process.

An example of the conflict between these varied interests can be seen in the need to preserve the over-sized existing masonry openings and the economic and functional requirements of standard ceiling heights. We resolved this by creating soffits and window pockets that keep the lower ceilings away form the face of the building, thus preserving the historic integrity of the exterior.

The historic character of the building required extensive brick and stone preservation and restoration, as well as authentic window replication and repair. The existing wood window frames are being restored inside and out, and the deteriorated sashes are being replaced with new double-glazed sashes, approved by the National Park Service.

As a result of the complicated nature of Cooke Mill, the entire project, from its conception in 1990 to completion, is likely to take a total of four and one-half years.

In contrast, our firm recently completed the design of a privately-funded adaptive re-use project without "historic designation" or government financing. R was the adaptive reuse of four historic mill buildings in Little Falls, New Jersey, originally built between 1864 and 1930, into market rate housing units, a riverfront park and recreational facilities. In addition to the restored structures, it included a new nine-story building. Though a significantly larger project than Cooke Mill, the approval process, requiring only local agencies and no government financing, took considerably less time.

Several of our other projects without "historic designation" have recently been designed. They include The Grange Hall, a 19th-century meeting hall transformed into a luxury residence in Wyckoff, New Jersey; The Stone Barn, an 18th century barn converted into a luxury residence in Rye, New York; and the conversion of a derelict lumberyard in Ridgewood, New Jersey, into an office building.

In spite of the intricate requirements of design, approval and development of historic preservation projects like Cooke Mill, the rewards are evident. In place of a deteriorated, non-functional eyesore, a vital new building will offer modern services while providing a glimpse into our past. For architects and developers, these projects can often be a highlight of their creativity.
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Title Annotation:restoration of historic buildings in New Jersey
Author:Poskanzer, Barry
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:May 19, 1993
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