How to Save a Building

It’s interesting to work in a field where  most of the people I interact with don’t “work in my field.”  I am constantly being asked to speak about how to save a building or how to research a building for a National Register Nomination, and ultimately why would you do a National Register Nomination.  By no means is this an exhaustive list, it is intended to provide a framework that will allow Heritage Ohio, Ohio Historic Preservation Office, and other organizations better assist you as you try to save a building in your community.


Saving a Building 101

I will immediately ask you three things: 1. Who owns the property? 2. What is the significance of the property? 3. What legal steps have been taken?

Who Owns the Property

Is it privately owned or publically owned?  Is the owner willing to work towards saving the property?  Owner consent is vital.  If it is privately owned, the owner must be cooperative or open towards saving the property.  Public ownership is when the city or county have control over a building.

How to find out who owns a property – Many resources are available for free and online to determine ownership of a property or building.  County Auditors websites have searchable databases that provide information on a specific address over time, allowing you to see who currently owns the building as well as any previous owners.  Example:Columbus County Auditor Property Search

What is the significance of the property?

Is it architecturally significant? Connected to a specific person or place in history? Is it part of a broad national context?

How to find out the significance of a property: the National Register database is searchable by county, city, property name, address, as well as many other fields.  This is a quick way to determine if the property already has a National Register Nomination.  Example: Ohio Historic Preservation Office/National Register Searchable Database

What legal steps have been taken?

Has there been a building study?  Have the courts condemned the building?  Is there a demolition date?

Property rights are well protected in America.  National Register properties are not protected from demolition, and ultimately the owner has the final say whether private or publically owned.

From here Heritage Ohio and other historic preservation organizations can help determine the best scenario moving forward.


Who to contact?  Local governments may have a design review committee or a preservation coordinator.   Also local cities may have an Ohio Main Street program or Local Preservation Organizations who can help.  At the state level, the Ohio Historic Preservation Office and Heritage Ohio can help guide you in the right direction based on the answers to the above questions.  Finally, at the National Level there is the National Trust for Historic Preservation.


Adaptive Reuse

Once the building has been saved (or in many cases just saved from immediate demolition) the next step is finding a viable use.  We call this Adaptive reuse.  Each community needs to evaluate the needs of their community to determine the best fit for not only the building but the area.

As with all business ventures, a business plan is essential.  The idea has to be financially viable today and in the long term.

When searching for an adaptive reuse project, there are three areas to be thinking about:

Initial Purchase/Investment  If publically owned, is it possible to have the property donated?  If privately owned, is the owner open to negotiation on the asking price?  Be prepared for upfront costs associated with assuming ownership of a building.

Keeping the Lights on.  As an organization, you need to be able to keep the lights on in a building for a minimum of 5 years.  What does that electric and heating cost come to?  Are there any administration fees available?

Rehabilitation Costs.  Often times historic buildings need to be brought up to building code around the time of a title change or purchase.  You need to be aware of the cost of upfitting a building even to the base minimum building code.  Also, many times an organization needs to find a developer to take on the project.  There may be significant fees associated with this.


Finally, your organization needs a way to pay for these costs and services.  Forming a non-profit is one option.  The benefits of being a 501c3 nonprofit are the ability to accept funding and grant money from public and private sources.  The Ohio Historic Preservation Office has many grants and funds for “bricks and mortar” which refers to actual building and construction expenses, such as fixing a roof or bringing the electrical work up to code.  One program is Ohio’s History Fund.  However, you need to legally be able to accept public funds. If you don’t have any organization willing to help, you will have to become a nonprofit yourself.

While this is only the beginning steps to saving a historic landmark in your community, it provides a strong foundation in order for Heritage Ohio and other historic preservation organizations to assist your project.

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How to Research a Historic Building or Site

In my field I am confronted with two main challenges:

1. How do you research a historic building or site?
2. How do you save a community landmark?

Today, I am tackling how to research a historic building or site.  Recently, Andrew Neutzling, Americorps Volunteer with Columbus Landmarks, and I gave a lecture to a graduate class at Kent State for Library Science and Genealogy students on this topic.  We outlined the main primary resources we use in Ohio on a daily basis, along with who to contact for assistance and a primer on architectural history.

I have attached our presentation in pdf form with links to websites and examples of architectural essays, Ohio Historic Inventory forms, and National Register nominations.

Stay tuned for May 8 when I will tackle part 2: How to save a community landmark.

Local History Resources


Christie Chapman
Americorps Volunteer with Heritage Ohio

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Latest Revitalize Ohio

Check out a preview of the latest edition of Heritage Ohio’s quarterly publication, Revitalize Ohio, here.  The current issue highlights:

  • Ohio Main Street’s Winter Events
  • Nate’s preservation progress in the Old West neighborhood of Toledo
  • Heritage Ohio’s 2011 Annual Report

Plus more revitalization and preservation issues available exclusively to our members.  To become a member click here.


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The Ohio Vacant Facilities Fund

While in Spokane, Washington at the National Trust for Historic Preservation annual conference, I, along with many other Ohio delegates, attended a session on right-sizing.  Presenter Cara Bertram, with Place Economics, conducted a survey of older industrial cities that have experienced significant population change over the last 40 years.  Cleveland, Youngstown, Dayton and Cincinnati were 4 of the 20 cities selected for the survey.[1]

We expected answers and concrete models working in other cities that we could bring back to Ohio. Instead, we learned that there currently are no success stories.  The issue of vacant properties and low population has only begun to be documented and the idea of rightsizing, or the process of reshaping physical urban fabric to meet the needs of current and anticipated populations, is only a working theory.   We discovered that dramatic population loss is being experienced across the nation, not just in older industrial cities, but also in Texas, where army bases have vacated, and also in Niagara Falls, NY where they are about to lose their city status along with a significant reduction in federal funds .  While a few facts remain constant, such as decreased population, vacant buildings, and economic decline, the available resources change dramatically from city to city and also state to state.  Essentially, Ohio needs to find creative ways to solve rightsizing issues through our own resources and funding sources because a national model is not coming any time soon.

Two Ohio cities, Sandusky and Painesville, have decided to create disincentives by using penalties to nudge people and companies to make decisions that expand the tax base.  Both cities have created vacant property registries.  The ordinance requires owners of vacant properties to sign a registry.  Part of the registry requires that the property owner indicates who the lawful owner of the property is and provide the contact information for that owner, or in the case of out of town owners, to provide the local contact for the person acting as the owner’s agent.  The property owner is then required to submit a plan for leasing the property, selling the property or developing the property.  The ordinance also requires the property owner to keep the property safe and secure and maintain the property in accordance to local standards.  As stated in the purpose of the Painesville ordinance, “(t)he purpose of this ordinance is to establish a program for identifying and registering vacant residential and commercial buildings; to determining the responsibilities of owners of vacant buildings and structures; and to speed the rehabilitation of the vacant buildings. Shifting the cost burden from the general citizenry to the owners of the blighted buildings will be the result of this ordinance.”  The key to this statement is “shifting the cost from the general citizenry to the owners of the blighted building.”  A dilapidated downtown building affects the whole city.[2]

On a statewide level, the Ohio Development Services Agency has created the Ohio Vacant Facilities Fund to create reuse incentives for vacant buildings while investing in local businesses and creating jobs.  An employer will receive $500 in grant funds for every new full-time position created in eligible facilities.  The position must last at least one year before funds will be distributed.  Funds can be used for acquisition, construction, enlargement, improvement, or equipment of the facility.  The fund has been allocated $2 million through August 2015 and will begin accepting pre-certification requests November 26.  Over the next two years, the fund has the ability to create up to 4,000 jobs.

The program can be used by all scales of employers to fill both big-boxes and main street storefronts.  For example, a bakery opens in a downtown.  They create 4 jobs after opening.  After 1 year, they are eligible for $2000, which could be used to reinvest in their equipment to meet their growing business needs.

Employers should submit a pre-certification request form, available from the Ohio Development Services Agency’s website http://development.ohio.gov/cs/cs_ovff.htm.  The request must be submitted prior to occupying the vacant facility or increasing employment in order to verify eligibility and reserve funds.  All for-profit businesses are eligible, while non-profit and governments are not eligible.  The building must be 75% or more unoccupied and available for use in trade or business for no less than 12 months.  If the building is not occupied or construction is not complete, then construction must be at least 85% or more complete and able to be lawfully occupied with a certificate of occupancy.  Also, the employer must increase employment above the Base Employment Threshold.

For more information and pre-certification request applications, please visit the agency’s website: http://development.ohio.gov/cs/cs_ovff.htm, or contact the Office of Redevelopment at historic@development.ohio.gov or call 614-995-2292.[3]


[1] For more information on rightsizing and a full list of all 20 cities, the report in its entirety can be found on Place Economics’ website at http://www.placeeconomics.com/services/rightsizing.

[2] This excerpt is from the article “The Price of Vacant Property” written by Jeff Siegler and can be found in the Fall 2012 issue of Revitalize Ohio.

[3] For direct assistance contact: Nathaniel Kaelin, Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program Manager, Office of Redevelopment, Community Services Division.  Nathaniel.Kaelin@development.ohio.gov or 614-995-2292.

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Main Street Revitalization Series June 13 & 14

Building Better Businesses

Hamilton Williams Campus Center – Ohio Wesleyan University
Delaware, Ohio


Great merchants allow downtown to thrive, yet so many towns don’t have enough great merchants.  Join us in Delaware on June 13th from 10:30am to 5:00pm to learn from Margie Johnson, one of the country’s leading retail experts, to understand how to improve your retail reality.

Margie Johnson can equip you with the knowledge and skills to analyze and act on information that will lead you to the next level. Since 1984, Margie’s company, Shop Talk, has been helping organizations be leaders in their industries, not just competitors.

Margie has over 30 years of experience as an owner/entrepreneur in the retail world. Her “customer centered” training sessions and approach to solving business problems have assisted hundreds of clients develop that competitive edge that is so necessary in the business world today. Margie is a frequently requested retail expert speaker at national conventions, as well as a frequent contributor and writer for regional trade publications.

Register HERE.


Main Street Managers sign up for Networking June 14th, 9:00am to 1:00pm HERE.


The Heritage Ohio Revitalization Series is brought to you by:

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Voting now open for the Preservation Month Photo Contest!

We’re pleased to announce the three finalists of our Preservation Month Photo Contest. Congratulations to:

Sherry Kepp, and her entry “Waiting”



John Holliger, and his entry “Downtown in Bloom”



David Wilding, and his entry “Veteran’s Day Tribute”



Now that you’ve taken a peek at their photos, think about which one best captures the essence of Preservation Month, and get ready to vote here!

Voting will continue through Wednesday, May 30. We’ll announce the winner of the 2012 Preservation Month Photo Contest on Thursday, May 31, to close out Preservation Month.

With Ohio photographic fame and a Revitalize Ohio cover image on the line, the stakes are high! Good luck to our finalists!

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Revitalization Conference Session Topics


Helping Homeowner:  A Loan Program for Residential Rehab

Residential rehab of older & historic homes is a challenge, and dependent on the right tools.  Find out how a successful program can be started in your community and the benefits that accompany it with Thomas A. Jorgensen & Jessica A. Ugarte.

Check out this and other Conference session topics HERE.

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Revitalization Conference Speakers

Take a stroll with historian and architect Paul Sullivan through the normally unseen locations of Downtown Toledo and/or  one of Toledo’s greatest success stories, the Toledo Warehouse District, at the Heritage Ohio Revitalization Conference.  Get your tickets today!

For more session information and other conference speaker bios click HERE.

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Revitalization Conference Session Topics

Downtown Design Review

The National Alliance of Preservation Commissions’ Todd Zieger discusses the best practices for downtown design review at our Revitalization Conference in Toledo.

Check out this and other Conference session topics HERE.

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Revitalization Conference Speakers

Mr. Jonathan Sandvick, Architect & President of Sandvick Architect Inc,  will lead a behind the scenes tour of the Water Street Station development located on the Downtown Toledo waterfront.  Don’t miss this opportunity May 10, 2012.

At our Revitalization Conference in Toledo May 8-10, Mr. Sandvick will be leading our Tour of the Water St. Station Steam Plant.

For more session information and other conference speaker bios click HERE.

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