Preservationists Focused on United Priorities for the Next Administration

HDC LRGHistoric Districts Council’s annual preservation conference celebrated City history, identified priorities, and looked forward to new battles and a new administration. The Historic Districts Council hosted its 19th Annual Preservation Conference over three days from March 1 to 3, 2013. The conference featured receptions, guest speakers, panel discussions, and walking tours. The American Institute of Architects also provided continuing education credits. New York Law School hosted the conference on Saturday, March 2nd. Participants from various fields spoke on panels regarding preservation campaigns in the public and private sector. Panelists presented individual talks on preservation issues and took questions from the audience and panel moderators. The event attracted people actively engaged in preservation advocacy and sought to strengthen connections between disparate groups pursuing a common cause. In her introduction, HDC President Francoise Bollack called the preservation of historic architecture “a collective endeavor.” Panelists and speakers repeatedly criticized the Bloomberg Administration and City Planning Commission Chair Amanda Burden for their perceived lack of consideration of preservation issues.

In the first panel, Jack Goldstein, former Executive Director of Save the Theaters, spoke on the decades-spanning effort to protect Manhattan’s Theater District, which he called “one of the premier cultural resources in the U.S.” He detailed the multiple stakeholders in the neighborhood – including unions, residents, theaters, and the pornography industry – and said he learned that it was “possible to resolve issues through collaboration.” Andrew Dolkart, Director of the Historic Preservation Program at Columbia University, gave a presentation on the history and architecture of the Garment District, an area worthy of protection. Dolkart said the area was “of major historical significance to the history of New York” comprised of a collection of high-rise buildings “unique in the world,” even if it was not designed by celebrated architects. Architectural historian Kerri Culhane, Associate Director of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, discussed the proposed East Midtown rezoning, which would affect approximately 587 buildings. She said preservationist effort is needed to preserve significant buildings in the face of an up-zoning that would likely lead to their alteration or demolition.

During the panel discussion, Dolkart lamented the lack of cohesion among preservation organizations that led to a recent damning article in the New York Post.  The article discussed how several major preservationist groups could not agree on which buildings to landmark near Grand Central.

In the second panel, Pratt Institute’s Lacey Tauber addressed the failure of City-driven rezoning to adequately preserve the waterfront neighborhoods of north Brooklyn. She also discussed some local community organization victories, such as demanding public access to the waterfront. Tauber said that ethnic enclaves and historic industrial buildings were being threatened by rising property values. Brooklyn realtor Donald Brennan discussed “the economics of preservation,” especially the impact of landmark designation on a local real estate market. As a broker, he has seen demand for homes in landmarked districts far exceed supply. He contended that properties within historic districts were more valuable per square foot than those on the outside of historic districts. Brennan noted that properties in landmarked districts possessed a form of “insurance,” in that owners could be assured their property would not lose value due to “adjacency problems” – inappropriate or out-of-scale development next door.

Social historian John Reddick gave the final talk on the intertwinement of African-American and Jewish social history in Harlem from the 1890s to the 1930s. He also discussed notable lost and existing Harlem structures.

During a question-and-answer period, panelist urged preservationists to attend mayoral campaign functions to compel candidates to take stances on land use issues. Andrew Dolkart again took the microphone to encourage attendees to pressure candidates to appoint a professional preservationist as chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

A walking tour of Tribeca followed the event.

HDC: 19th Annual Preservation Conference, Preservation Now! Today’s Victories, Losses and Ongoing Battles! (March 2, 2013).

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