3 signs your contractor is doing more harm than good to your masonry building

We learn early on in the preservation field about the dangers of abrasive “cleaning” on old masonry. Heck, it’s even immortalized in the Secretary’s standards, saying, “Chemical or physical treatments, if appropriate, will be undertaken using the GENTLEST means possible (my emphasis). Treatments that cause damage to historic materials will not be used.” (What’s that? You’d like a refresher on the other 9 standards? OK, you can check ‘em out here.)

I like to refer to this as the sandblasting standard; in other words, don’t do it! When it comes to masonry, don’t blast it. Don’t blast with sand, water, walnut shells, ice pellets,  or anything else that comes out of a heavy rubber hose at high pressure. Just don’t.

Sometimes I forget that not everyone who owns an old, historic masonry building has learned this important lesson, so I’m asking you today, dear reader, to help us get the message out. Let design review boards, preservation groups, owners of brick buildings, and anyone else who could benefit from the knowledge, know that blasting historic masonry is just plain bad.

Meanwhile, I’ll share with you my unfortunate experience I had the other day, and some signs that the masonry contractor is doing more harm than good to your building.

1. Fast paint removal

I’ve always thought of any construction project as having three pillars of output: time, price, and quality. Of course, every owner wishes to have the project done quickly, cheaply, and of high quality. But in this case, two out of three is perfection. You can’t have all three, so you have to decide which two you’re going to focus on (might I suggest high quality as one of the two).

This means that if you want something done quickly and to high quality, you’ll pay the price. If you want something done cheaply and to high quality, you can bet it will take a long time to get the project finished (if you can even pair up price and quality to begin with). And if you want something done quickly and cheaply, you’ll likely pay for it with a low quality job.

In this case, beware the contractor who offers “fast” paint removal from brick. The only way you’ll get fast paint removal from brick is at the cost of compromising the very integrity of your masonry. This is where blasting brick to remove paint comes in. Blasting brick is a great way to remove paint “fast.” What it does to the brick? Not so great.

These guys may be setting a speed record on paint removal. That's not a good thing.

These guys may be setting a speed record on paint removal. That’s not a good thing.

2. Brick valleys

Masonry, even the old “soft” brick is a pretty smooth building material. It doesn’t have ridges and valleys, like what we see here, once the damage has been done.

When the hard outer shell of the brick has been removed, you’re left with a much softer interior. Soft interiors+freeze/thaw cycles=bad news. But, while the structural integrity of the brick has been compromised, at least the paint’s gone!

They had the blaster set to "destroy" for this job. Notice how the horizontal lines extend along the same level, from one brick to another? This was caused by the blasting material (in this case, water), the proximity of the tool to the surface (too close), and the pressure of the blasting.

They had the blaster set to “destroy” for this job. Notice how the horizontal lines extend along the same level, from one brick to another? This was caused by the blasting material (in this case, water), the proximity of the tool to the surface (too close), and the pressure of the blasting.

3. Nozzles and brick: up close and personal

Now, it’s not that we frown upon anything harsher than cotton balls dipped in warm water, delicately rubbed back in forth in a gentle, circular motion, to cure what ills your brick. It’s just that there’s this wide gulf of possibility between too gentle and too harsh. Yes, you can loosen flaking paint with water jets. But, you have to be careful that the pressure setting won’t harm your brick. You also have to be mindful that water, as the sworn enemy of historic buildings, will do bad things if it gets into the building. And, even a low setting too close to the wall can be bad for your brick. A high setting too close to the wall is more like fatal for your brick.

Bye bye paint, bye bye brick crust, bye bye brick integrity.

Bye bye paint, bye bye brick crust, bye bye brick integrity.

As preservationists, we should all savor the opportunities to educate people about the wonderful assets they have, and that the care and maintenance of elderly buildings is best left to restoration professionals.

Cincinnati’s Music Hall receives catalytic tax credit award

Music Hall in Cincinnati was the big winner in the latest round of tax credit awards named yesterday. You can read more from ODSA’s press release here.

The 10% (residential) tax credit…no, really! Pt II

We left off with my promise to share what I found out about the 10% tax credit, and just what you could or couldn’t do with it when it comes residential rehabilitation.

I started by checking out Form 3468 from the IRS, the form you attach to your return (you can view a PDF of the form here). One definite advantage to the 10% credit is the fact that there’s no 3-part process involving the SHPO, the National Park Service, the IRS, and your raft of consultants (depending on the complexity of your project). You report your 10% credit on a three-page form that you include in your annual return. And really, it’s one line multiplying your Qualified Rehabilitation Expenditures by 10%, and entering that total on the last line of the form.

In consulting the 2013 Instructions for Form 3468 (which you can find here) because nothing with the IRS is as easy as writing the total in one line, we learn that the Qualified Rehabilitation Expenditures have to be for “nonresidential rental property.” So what exactly does that mean? Sorry, the IRS can’t be bothered with including definitions for common terms used on the form. That would be…helpful.

What if you could use the 10% tax credit on redevelopment projects that included a residential component?

There’s that same building again, only bigger.

However; undaunted, and hot on the trail of this mystery, I google “nonresidential rental property definition” and then I google “residential rental property definition” which brings me to the next IRS publication. IRS Publication 527 covers residential rental property (yep, I’ve got your link for it here) and the IRS gets into property classes. While the classes don’t include “nonresidential rental property,” we do get a definition for “residential rental property” as follows:

This class includes any real property that is a rental building or structure (including a mobile home) for which 80% or more of the gross rental income for the tax year is from
dwelling units….

So, does that mean the inverse applies for the definition of nonresidential rental property? As long as less than 80% of your income comes from dwelling units, is your property defined as nonresidential rental property in the eyes of the IRS? I kept searching.

A fair amount of googling later, I came upon IRS Publication 946, which delves into property depreciation (you glutton…here you go) and the good folks at the IRS included a glossary in the publication. Their definition for residential rental property (sorry, nothing under the Ns for nonresidential rental property) is:

Real property, generally buildings or structures, if 80% or more of its annual gross rental income is from dwelling units.

So, again, do we flip greater than 80% for less than 80% to come to the definition of nonresidential rental property? And, anyway, why should we really care?

And the answer is that there is a lot of potential for the renovation of old, mixed-use commercial buildings, 2- 3- or 4-story, that could use the 10% rehab tax credit, but that don’t, leaving serious incentive money on the table. According to the IRS, as long as less than 80% of your income comes from the residential portion of your building, the IRS categorizes it as nonresidential rental property, and appears to be eligible for the 10% tax credit. And on a $100,000 rehab project, that’s an extra $10,000 in the developer’s pocket at the end. Not bad for filling out a couple lines on your tax return.

Now, since I’m not a lawyer or tax advisor, I’m afraid all I can do is whip you into a frenzy over incentive dollars you could be taking advantage of (or did all the IRS publications already do that?) so please don’t take this as a substitute for consulting your own favorite tax person or lawyer.

If you have your own two cents, or 10%, to contribute to the conversation, I’d love to hear from you. Have you successfully taken the 10% credit on a project with a residential component? Have you uncovered that elusive definition of nonresidential rental property that you would be willing to share? Thanks for reading!

The 10% (residential) tax credit…no, really! Pt I

Every good preservationist knows that rehab tax credits get subdivided into two neat categories: the 20% credit for the rehab of National Register-listed buildings, and the 10% credit for the rehab of non-NR properties constructed before 1936. Every good preservationist also knows that the 10% credit can only go toward buildings with non-residential uses (it says so in the Historic Preservation Tax Incentives brochure that you can check out here).

What if you could use the 10% tax credit on redevelopment projects that included a residential component?

What if you could use the 10% tax credit on redevelopment projects that included a residential component?

As someone who likes to consider myself somewhat well-versed in the rehab tax credits, you can imagine my surprise when my Historic Real Estate Finance instructor asserted that, in fact, you could use the 10% credit for a project that included a residential component. I remember thinking at the time that that was a good piece of tax credit info to know, and I filed it away in my mind.

Fast forward to yesterday, and Joyce and I were having a conversation with a developer who is redeveloping a non-NR building, constructed before 1936, for mixed use.

So, I bring up the 10% tax credit. The developer would use the 10%, but the building development will have a residential component…and then I pounce.

Well yes, but, did you know you *can* use the 10% on a mixed use project with residential?

However, after piquing the developer’s interest, I realize I can’t exactly defend my position with official IRS definitions, or publication references proving my point. So, I tasked myself with a mini-IRS immersion to first and foremost conclusively prove (at least to myself) that I’m providing useful information a building developer will actually be able to use.

I’ll share my search for definitive answers (and the results) in Part II.

Our Town grant announcement

The National Endowment for the Arts has announced its latest round of funding for its Our Town initiative. Eligible activities include Arts Engagement, Cultural Planning, or Design. Prior grant recipients in Ohio have included: Westcott House Foundation in Springfield (2014), Pomerene Center for the Arts in Coshocton (2013), Detroit Shoreway in Cleveland (2012), Art Opportunities in Cincinnati (2012), and Artspace in Hamilton (2011), so the NEA is familiar with Our Town projects in Ohio.

An initial online application submitted through Grants.gov is due by December 15, 2014. For more information, click here to access the Our Town Grant information page.

Downtown Painesville Hiring Executive Director

Job Posting: Executive Director
Employer: Downtown Painesville Organization

The Downtown Painesville Organization is looking for an energetic, imaginative and self-motivated director for economic development organization. Successful candidate will be responsible for leading historic revitalization program within the downtown business district.

Resumes should be submitted with cover letter expressing interest and three professional references. This posting is open until filled.

Send To:

Downtown Painesville Organization

One Victoria Place #265A Painesville, OH 44077


Founded in 2007, the Downtown Painesville Organization is a 501c3 non‐profit revitalizing Painesville’s historic core via the Ohio Main Street Program. Based in historic preservation, the Main Street approach was developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to save America’s traditional downtowns. The Executive Director’s responsibilities include a broad range of economic development activities. The Executive Director must be creative, entrepreneurial and adaptable to the changing needs of the organization.

The Executive Director coordinates the activities of the downtown revitalization program and is responsible for the development, conduct, execution and documentation of the Main Street Program in accordance with Heritage Ohio and the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street Program. The executive director is the principal on‐site staff person responsible for coordinating all project activities locally as well as for representing the community regionally and nationally as appropriate. In addition, the executive director should help guide the organization as it grows and as its objectives evolve.


• Full‐time advocate for the downtown and primary coordinator of the Main Street program’s activities • Oversees daily operations, providing the hands‐on involvement critical to a successful program.
• Coordinates a wide range of projects, from supervising promotional activities to managing internship program and volunteer projects

• Working cooperatively with the local community to develop and implement a local action plan and timetable which includes public and private activities and events.
• Assisting individual merchants and property owners with design and construction of physical restoration projects.

• Preparing and maintaining a continuing record of Downtown Painesville Organization activities • Other duties as directed by Board of Directors


This position requires a Bachelor’s degree. Experience or education related to architecture, historic preservation, economics, finance, public relations, design, journalism, planning, business administration, public administration, retailing, volunteer or nonprofit administration and/or small business development preferred.


  • Experience leading teams and/or projects.
  • Strong written, oral, and organizational skills
  • High level of technical ability with strong working knowledge of computer software programssuch as desktop publishing, graphic design, website administration, and Microsoft office suite.
  • Ability to manage websites and social media content such as Facebook, Twitter
  • Experience with event planning, fundraising and government relations preferredSUPERVISIOR RESPONSIBILITIES: Responsible for managing interns and numerous volunteer groups and committees.OTHER: Some travel may be required. Drug test and background check required. Must physically be able to lift 50 pounds. Extensive walking required. Frequent weekend and evening responsibilities.

    Salary & Benefits TBA 

We need more myth-busting!

I’m curious: did you happen to catch Barb Powers’ presentation at our Annual Conference in Kent, Myth-Busting the National Register of Historic Places? If not, here’s the quick (very quick!) summary: myths and misinformation abound when it comes to the National Register of Historic Places, including what owners of buildings are or are not required to do with their NR-listed property.

Combating that misinformation and trying to set the record straight seems to be one of those perpetual tasks for organizations such as the SHPO and Heritage Ohio. I was just reminded this week of the ignorance being spread about the National Register when I was reading an article about Hamilton’s efforts to list their downtown in the National Register in order to access tax credit incentives (you can read the article here). While the article is factually correct, the problems happen when we get to the comments section, specifically the commenter saying “Registration prevents revitalization and requires preservation. This is a bad move… You cannot change the exterior of registered buildings. You cannot demolish older buildings to replace them with newer buildings. You can maintain a movie set for the early 20th century. But, you kill revitalization of the city when you register the buildings.”

Of course, anyone who attended Barb’s session, or who has a basic familiarity with the National Register understands that these comments are patently false. The National Register does not require building owners to preserve their buildings. Nor does it prohibit exterior changes. Nor does it prohibit demolition. Unfortunately, these voices are out there, they crop up, and they have their believers. So, our jobs, as passionate preservationists, is to make sure we take every opportunity to educate people about what the National Register does and does not do, and refute National Register ignorance when we have the opportunity.

Norwalk Seeks Economic Development Director

Economic Development Director (Norwalk, OH):

The Norwalk Economic Development Corporation (NEDC), a 501(c)(3) seeks an experienced individual to lead its economic development program, manage businesses attraction and retention, oversee personnel and programs, and coordinate incentive programs.

This position requires at least a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, Economics, Marketing, Public Administration or related field, with five years experience in economic development and/or executive positions.  Excellent verbal and written communication skills are essential.

Send resumes and salary requirements to NEDC, 12 Benedict Avenue, 2nd floor, Norwalk, OH  44857 or e-mail tmiller@norwalknedc.com.  For a complete job description or more information, call 419-663-2030.

Marietta Main Street Seeks Executive Director

Marietta Main Street Seeks Executive Director

Job Description

Marietta Main Street seeks an organized, dynamic, energetic visionary to lead our Main Street community as Executive Director. This candidate must be a self-starter with an entrepreneurial spirit, and capable of functioning effectively in an independent environment. This individual will be responsible for the coordination and oversight of the Main Street program within downtown Marietta & Harmar Village. The responsibility includes but not limited to managing the organization’s development, and the overseeing of the program’s economic development, promotions, and design projects.

Responsibilities Include but not limited to…

>Represent and promote the program thru volunteers, the public, funding partners, city, state and federal officials and the business owners, landlords and residents of the downtown Marietta & Harmar Village.

>In tandem with assistance from the Board of Directors, this candidate will develop and implement the program’ mission, vision, goals, objectives, and strategies via an annual work plan(s) based on the National Trust Main Street program methodology.

>Manage volunteers and coordinate activities of four Main Street Committees. Assist each committee in development and implementation of its work plan. Participate in committee meetings and serve as the liaison between committees, the Board of Directors, the business district stakeholders, and media outlets, ensuring that all actions and goals are coordinated.

>Develop Resources: Work with the Board of Directors to research and develop fundraising activities for the program including identifying private (foundations, corporations, local businesses, individuals, etc.) and public (city, state, national) funding sources, programs, and potential partners. Lead the program in the grant-writing process.

>Maximize communication between the existing downtown Businesses and other organizations to build strong, productive working relationships between partners and among all downtown stakeholders.

>Spend a minimum of 5-6 hours per week “on the street” for “face to face” as the director getting to know the business climate and environment as well as addressing individual business owner needs and concerns by directing them to appropriate available resources.

>Educate property and business owners about the importance of good design and merchandising and develop a network of consultants to guide in appropriate design and implementation of improvement projects, including historians, architects and contractors. Work with zoning officials to facilitate and streamline process.

>Coordinate and enhance events, promotions, and advertising strategies with existing organizations, the City, community groups, etc., to maximize the community image and retail opportunities.

>Conduct other duties and tasks as defined by the Board of Directors in the future.


>Minimum High School Diploma.

>Work experience in one or more of the following areas will be helpful, but not required – business, finance, urban affairs/public policy, community development, historic preservation, or a related field. Background in Main Street, retail or working with retailers preferred.

>Ability to delegate responsibilities effectively and motivate volunteers is essential.

>Excellent public speaking, interpersonal, time management, organizational, consensus-building and media relations skills.

>Strong written and oral communication skills.

>Experience in grant-writing process preferred but not required.

>Strong computer skills using Microsoft’s Office Suite (Word, Excel, Access and PowerPoint), website management skills preferred (Joomla).

>Ability to work evenings & weekends, as required (long hours are a must in several opportunities).

The salary range starts at $30,000, negotiable based on experience.

Please submit cover letter, resume and three professional references no later than September 30th to info@mariettamainstreet.org.

Thank you for your interest.

Ten truths of Smiley Pt II

I hope you had a chance to read the first post highlighting the Ten truths of Smiley. While not an exhaustive list, these were some of the concepts Marc presented at the June training in Marietta that struck a chord with me. I think that organizations keeping these “truths” in mind as they go about their mission-based work have a better chance of achieving their goals. We looked at 1-5 a couple days ago, and today we’re looking at 6-10.

6) The easy thing to do is grab people and put them on your board; the right thing to do is to approach board recruitment from a strategic standpoint.

Is there a secret to the success of highly effective organizations and the boards that run them? If there is, it certainly has something to do with the skills and knowledge of the people representing the board, and how those skills and knowledge uniquely assist the organization.

The board profile grid (something Marc is happy to share a sample of here) is a development tool that, when put into place and practiced, can become an “A-ha!” moment as board representatives realize for the first time that strategic development and recruitment of the board can propel an organization so much farther than simply trying to fill a board room with warm bodies. Every organization has unique skills it needs in order to accomplish its mission, and creating a customized board grid helps everyone understand what skills the current board brings to the table, and helps to narrow the focus for recruitment of new board members.

Marc shared a simple but brilliant device for keeping the board process in mind: R-O-T-E-R. A successful organization is careful to Recruit, Orient, Train, Evaluate, and Recognize their board.

7) When I say “board orientation,” do you say “What board orientation?”

Board orientation: it’s another one of those un-sexy but critical practices of successful organizations. In our years of working with local preservation organizations, and downtown revitalization organizations, we usually seem to encounter passionate people working on the external issues facing the community, but sometimes to the detriment of nurturing and building the internal foundation of the organization.

Have you ever been involved with an organization where you accepted a leadership role (such as serving on the board of directors) with vague promises from the board chair or the perpetually harried executive director to get you a full packet of board member materials, only to have little bits and pieces dribble in over the course of the first few meetings? (Forget the bylaws, I’d just be happy with a list of your passed motions from the last 12 months!) Making time to 1) put together a professional looking board orientation/board manual packet, and 2) sitting down with the prospective or new board member to share an organizational overview is not only a critical part of strengthening that board/stakeholder relationship, but making sure everyone is on the same page from the start. If you’re not sure what typically goes into a board member orientation packet, we can provide examples and share the important concepts we think a good orientation piece covers.

8) Good committee chairs: where do they hide???

If you were to ask whether someone would rather suffer from the occasional spontaneous bout of explosive diarrhea for the rest of their life or serve as the chair of the local Main Street program’s Economic Restructuring Committee for the next two years, I really think 99% of the people asked would politely pass on the chairmanship. So, lucky you, you’re on the hunt for that elusive 1% willing to serve as a committee chair.

While there’s no super secret rock that committee chairs-in-waiting hide under, there are things you can do to better set your organization up for success. Formalize the leadership cycle. Elect 2 vice chairs to serve staggered terms so there’s always overlap (and someone to share the occasional frustration). Or maintain committees with immediate past chair, current chair, and chair-elect as active committee members.

Sometimes it pays to be sneaky! Marc suggested this leadership recruitment trick: ask your prospect “Will you be the chair next year?” It always seems easier to commit to something in the future, and once you have the commitment, the hope is that your future chair will follow through when the time comes.

9) How well do you know your supporters and how well do they know you?

Over the course of my adult life I’ve had the experience of happily joining a nonprofit organization, strongly believing in their mission, only to become disillusioned a couple years in, because I would hear from them just once a year, when it came time to send my check in for my membership renewal. There was a lost opportunity to strengthen the donor/organization relationship, because there was no two-way relationship building: I wasn’t learning more about them and they weren’t learning more about me, and they lost my membership because of it.

As an organization, you have a great opportunity to tout yourself, but also to learn more about the people who believe in your work so explicitly that they financially support you. Welcoming someone with a new member packet, actually asking the “Why do you support us?” question, sending them a card on their birthday to let them know they’re important and that you care about their relationship with you, can all go a long way toward strengthening the member/organization bonds.

10) Last but not least: People have time to give, they do not have time to waste.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of your organization. Treat their volunteer time as the sacred gift it is. That means: no more meetings for the sake of having a meeting; no more meetings where the time is spent rehashing the discussion from last month’s meeting; no more board meetings where board members try to do the committees’ work; and no more meetings lasting more than two hours.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reviewing some of Marc’s top truths when it comes to organizational excellence. How will you know when you’ve really made it as an organization? In the words of Marc, it’s when people quit other boards in order to have the experience and privilege of serving on your board.


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