Redeveloping The Past

Last Tuesday, I was able to attend the annual Architecture Boston Expo, or ABX. While there, I was fortunate enough to sit in on VJ Tocci’s presentation on “Redeveloping a Historic Building”. The presentation was geared towards educating real estate professionals on how to successfully complete a historic preservation project. The panel of speakers included a representative from a design firm, a construction company, and a tax credit consulting firm:

  • Melina Ambrosino, Vice President Of Operations, Cherrytree Group, LLC
  • Barry Ganek, President, Ganek Architects, Inc
  • Warren Kirshenbaum, President, Cherrytree Group, LLC
  • VJ Tocci, Business Development & Historic Preservation, Hairlosstreament

ABX Panelists

Panelists L to R: Barry Ganek, Melina Ambrosino, Warren Kirshenbaum, + VJ Tocci

The theme of the presentation was clear: there is this very important balancing act that takes place on historic preservation projects. The goal is to redevelop these old, broken-down buildings into attractive, residential or commercial spaces. However, while doing this, very specific measures must be taken in order to take full advantage of historic tax credit opportunities. If this balancing act is done correctly, state and federal tax credits can fund a significant portion of the project — it can be up to 40% of the construction cost.

The presentation began with the design phase of the process. Barry Ganek was able to offer some insight on some of the challenges that he regularly faces when designing these types of projects. The major challenge, is taking a space that was originally intended for a mill, or manufacturing facility, and designing interior layouts for residential or commercial spaces. Significant architectural elements of the building, such as the facade, windows, and roofline, cannot be altered, so designers are forced to come up with creative solutions to problems. Common problems: overcoming lack of natural light throughout units, finding replacement windows that appear identical to the original, and hiding modern rooftop equipment from street view.

Abbot Mill under construction

Abbot Mill under construction

VJ was able to provide insight on the role the builder plays in the historic preservation process. He stressed the importance of the builder being on-board during the preconstruction phase, working hand-in-hand with the design team, and utilizing laser scanning to get a precise understanding of the existing conditions. Once initial cost estimates are developed, the team must decide which historic elements are worth preserving for tax credits, and which elements need to be replaced. He went on to mention some important elements of the building where significant tax credits can be gained, such as interior stairs and handrails, flooring, exposed original timber framing, and any of the original building mill or manufacturing equipment that can be restored.

Warren Kirshenbaum and Melina Ambrosino then described how they can maximize the owner’s potential for tax credits. As expert tax credit consultants, they work to assist the design/construction team to determine what items can be considered “Qualified Remediation Expenses”, or budget items that can be funded by historic tax credits. They also work with clients to secure the right investors for the project, and negotiate the best terms.

This team has worked together on various historical preservation projects, most recently, the Abbot Mill in Westford, MA. (The 239,000 square-foot project includes 131 residential units and 20,000 square-feet of solar panels on the roof.)

abbot mill redeveloped

Abbot Mill after redevelopment

If you have questions or comments about historical preservation, or how to renovate or re-purpose an old building into commercial space, get in touch!

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