PLT Capstone Brings New Ideas to Beaufort, S.C.
By National Trust Staff | From Forum Bulletin | June 22, 2012 |
Blessedly, the first week of June in Beaufort, S.C., was unseasonably cool this year. A good thing because participants in the National Trust’s Preservation Leadership Training: Capstone Experience spent a good chunk of that week walking the streets of Beaufort’s historic district, plotting and planning the revitalization of three key sites: 702 Bladen Street, 509 Carteret Street, and the 1400 block of Duke Street. Their proposals, presented to the public at a meeting on Thursday night, June 7, demonstrated that the rehabilitation of historic resources is not only economically viable, but could create exciting business opportunities, provide affordable housing, and spur redevelopment and reinvestment in the community.
To anyone but the intrepid students, 702 Bladen Street might look like a lost cause. A two-story residence turned commercial structure standing in what had once been a lumber yard, the building has lost much of its historic integrity. It sits within a block of an ambitious new investment, some 18 new homes and live/work units, which represents a major development project at the edge of the historic district. The owner of 702 had more than once asked for a demolition permit, however, he sat in the audience that Thursday night to hear two alternative proposals for the building’s future.
The first proposal called for the rehabilitation of the building as a single-family home that would offer comparable square footage and selling price to new units in the same block. The second was for two live/work units, each with a commercial storefront on separate facades of the corner lot building. Both teams not only demonstrated the economic viability of the project, they also argued for preservation of the building as a means to temper the newness growing up around it, as a way to link old and new, and to witness to the authentic evolution of Beaufort over time.
In contrast, the students fell instantly in love with 509 Carteret, a one-story retail building with generous windows, attractive brick detailing, and a location adjacent to what the students described as the sophisticated heart of commercial Beaufort. It would be easy enough to restore the building to its original glory, but the current owners were more concerned about whether or not a retail establishment could make a go of it.
The team members reviewed an existing plan for a bakery in the building, but decided to take that notion two steps further. They suggested a rehabilitation plan that would allow for three enterprises on the site, the bakery perhaps, but also a bar or restaurant, and most importantly an attraction that could make the site a destination for some of the 65,000 residents surrounding Beaufort. In an effort to bring this three-pronged approach to life, they proposed “Bread, Beer and Bottles”—a bakery that brewed beer and had a glass blowing artisan on site. Not surprisingly, the crowd roared with approval. The students were especially delighted to learn that the baker had formerly been a glass blower.
Whether Bread, Beer and Bottles becomes reality though was not the point, the idea was to show that investment in the rehabilitation of the building would bring dividends if a diverse combination of businesses could be brought to the site.
The solutions proposed for the 1400 block of Duke Street were equally sound. One of the historic district’s most important blocks, the site is adjacent to the new infill development mentioned above. It contains the historic Frogmore Lodge, once home to an African American Fraternal club, several modest sized bungalows, and a few retail establishments, all in various states of repair. Two teams addressed revitalization of the block and both proposed a sophisticated, phased redevelopment that would restore existing structures while at the same time increase density and provide new residential units. The new housing would range from 800 to 1,200 square feet and be priced between $152,000 and $218,000 making it affordable to firefighters and police officers, teachers, medical students, and other professionals.
While this section of the historic district, known as the Northwest Quadrant, is distinct in character from the larger mansions of Beaufort’s more famous “Point,” it also benefits from proximity to the commercial district and the scenic and recreational opportunities offered by the Sea Islands and the Atlantic Coast, which make Beaufort so attractive. Both teams articulated an overall vision for the block: a sustainable and affordable community that uses existing resources and incorporates context-sensitive new construction. This vision was well received by local citizens who want to see reinvestment, but not at the expense of current residents or the historic character of the neighborhood.
These proposals were the culmination of an intensive week of study during which students were guided by experienced trainers. They learned about real estate development, neighborhood analysis and planning, market research, and a whole lot about the Beaufort community itself. Yet, as Susan West Montgomery, director of Information and Training for the National Trust, reminded the audience at the public presentation, the students are not experts. While they were able to bring fresh eyes to some of Beaufort’s preservation challenges, each of their proposals must be more thoroughly assessed. What she could assure was the following:
- All the projects took into account the economic realities of the Beaufort market, as well as financing, acquisition, and construction costs.
- The proposed options strive to create a range of housing opportunities that can support existing residents while attracting new residents, a key goal of the City of Beaufort and its residents.
- The existing historic preservation and zoning regulations to which these projects will be subject are not impediments; in fact they create an environment in which this development can succeed.
A final report with complete details of the project proposals will be given to the Historic Beaufort Foundation and the City of Beaufort and will be available online.