Donovan Rypkema: All I can say is WOW

Donovan Rypkema, PlacEconomics

Donovan Rypkema, PlaceEconomics

I had the privilege to attend the opening session of the Louisiana Trust’s 30th Annual Preservation Conference which featured keynote speaker Donovan Rypkema.  Not only was he fantastic…he was AWEsome!!!  When took to the podium he appeared like your typical absent-minded professor, way smarter than you, economist.  Everything he said was heartfelt with a hint of humor.  His remarks were concise and easy to follow and understand.  I was proud when he said that the City of Alexandria is employing its own stimulus plan which will be more effective and self sustaining in the long run without expecting our great grandchildren to pay the debt 100 years from now (which cannot be said about the Obama stimulus plan).  I have always been a supporter of SPARC, but it is just nice when you have a big wig from D.C. come down and pat you on the back.  (Thumbs up Mayor and staff).

For a complete bio and CV on Mr. Rypkema, please click here.  Otherwise, below is the Town Talk article on the opening session.

Economist says SPARC is city’s stimulus plan
By RT Morgan • rtmorgan@thetowntalk.com • April 30, 2009
Preservation and reuse of the city of Alexandria’s older buildings could provide relief during an economic downturn, according to an expert on the economic benefits of historic preservation.

Donovan Rypkema categorized a city’s move toward historic preservation as a key to establishing sustainable economic development.

Rypkema, an internationally known economics professional, was in Alexandria on Wednesday as the keynote speaker for the 30th annual Louisiana Preservation Conference.

Based in Washington, D.C., Rypkema is the principal economist for PlaceEconomics, a real estate and economic development consulting firm. He is also the author of several books and articles concerning economic development, downtown redevelopment and historic preservation.

His comments on preserving and repairing existing assets coincide with a plan that has already been implemented by the city of Alexandria’s administration, the $96 million SPARC plan — Special Planned Activity Redevelopment Corridors.

Rypkema referred to the far-reaching development project as Alexandria’s stimulus plan. He was briefed on SPARC by members of the city administration.

Kay Michiels, the city’s chief operating officer/interim planning director, said she “drug (Rypkema) all over town” and picked his brain on development.

For the most part, Rypkema believes the city of Alexandria is headed in the right direction. He said SPARC meets a few specific goals, including long-term public gain and the focus on areas that warrant re-investment.

By operation, SPARC breaks the city into three Cultural Restoration Areas, primarily parts of Alexandria that have been economically left behind.

The strategy is right, Rypkema said of the city’s push to re-engage forgotten infrastructure, such as buildings, sidewalks and roads. He likened the current limited use of downtown’s sidewalks and roads to “piddling away tax dollars.” This is a result of growth that’s been left unchecked and uncontrolled.

Notes on A Driving Tour of Alexandria

Re-Posted here with permission by Lamar White, Jr.

To see the original post, click here.

Throughout the past few weeks, I’ve been discussing Alexandria on a personal level and the potential and opportunities presented by the community’s renewed spirit and by the nearly $100 million infrastructural project known as SPARC.

Last week, Daniel Smith, Melinda Anderson, and I took a tour of Alexandria. We were scoping out provisional historical districts and properties, in preparation for a visit by the State Historic Preservation Office (which was covered in today’s newspaper). Just as an aside, a designation on the National Register of Historic Places does not prevent a structure from being demolished. However, it is an incredibly important distinction, paving the way for various tax credits (when applicable) and demonstrating the importance of a place’s history and local significance.

Our tour was instructive.

We began in Lower Third. There’s a neighborhood near Augusta Street that is approaching the 50 year threshold, and though it probably does not possess the “wow factor” needed for inclusion in the National Register, it appears to be a stable and healthy working class neighborhood, a place in which pride of ownership shows.

We then dipped down to Samtown/Woodside, an area in obvious need of attention, to check out a small area that we had initially believed to be nearing 50 years old (but have subsequently determined otherwise). As I mentioned in a previous post on walkability, Samtown/Woodside has some obvious obstacles– in large part, this is because the area was developed and subsequently annexed into the City of Alexandria, which means that site development requirements were practically non-existent. There are very few sidewalks, and in many places, the roads are entirely too narrow.

I know many, many people who have lived in Alexandria for the entire lives and have not yet been to Samtown or Woodside. And I am personally ashamed that it took me nearly twenty years before I had ever visited this important area of our City.

Which leads me to a broader point: When discussing the needs of our community, we must be objective. Our needs should be discussed collectively– as a community; they should not be steered by the wants and demands of a small group of individuals. The table should have enough seats for all of us.

If you have no notion of the needs of Lower Third, Samtown/Woodside, and South Alexandria– tangible and obvious needs- then you likely have a distorted view of our most pressing priorities.

Much of Alexandria is blighted and in need of immediate attention– both programmatic and infrastructural.

That said, there is a reason I personally believe preservation is particularly important– not just in the area around the Alexandria Garden District but throughout our fair City. To be sure, I think it is foolish to be stubborn on this issue– sometimes, quite simply, some things are beyond saving. But when we can, we must preserve.

After Daniel, Melinda, and I left Samtown/Woodside, we toured an area near South Lee Street– remarkably similar to the character of Samtown/Woodside, and then on to an area known as Sunken Village, which, believe it or not, is technically outside of the city limits. Sunken Village is, in my opinion, a unique urban problem. As its name implies, the neighborhood has a tendency to flood, and although it appears to be primarily occupied by young families, its infrastructure is ancient. Children crowded the streets due to a lack of sidewalks. Something needs to happen there. It’s outside of the City. There’s no homeowner’s association.  Much of the neighborhood is rental property. It’s prone to flooding.

When you tour Alexandria in this way, you have a notion of the scale of blight. It is not isolated to a single area; it exists throughout the City, and therefore, it is a City-wide problem.

Working together means acknowledging our shared challenges.

I implore you: If you haven’t seen your City, go out and see it.

Lamar White, Jr.

Proposed Bus Station: Bolton and Florence Avenue

In the Town Talk today, there is an article noting that plans for the proposed Bolton Avenue/Florence Avenue bus transfer station are on track.  Ms. Cook and I attended the council meeting, last year, where an item on the agenda was to approve the city’s purchase of the property for possible development of a bus transfer station.  In that meeting, Ms. Cook very forcibly objected to anything that would negatively affect this area of town.  The Cooks and I are both homeowners on Florence Avenue and the idea of a rowdy bus station, with who knows what drifting in and out at all hours, was a little unsettling.  However, we met with Kay Michiels, and she assured that the city was only looking to improve the area and not further blight it.  We further lodged our concerns about another ugly ill built government building that would fall apart within 20-30 years and detract from some of the historical aspects of the area.  Again, we were assured that anything done would be “historically sensitive” and that city already had plans to apply for “beautification” grants that would not only fund signage and plantings down Bolton Avenue, but would also fund plantings so many feet down Monroe Street.  We were both told that we would be put on the an advisory committee and give ideas and suggestions regarding the architecture, plantings, signage, etc.  Further, as we understand it, this is only going to be a transfer station where people transfer from one bus to the other, rather than gathering there to catch a bus.  So, this all sounded good to me.

As far as I am concerned, I don’t think anything could hurt Monroe Street in its present state. Especially after one of the most prominent houses on Monroe Street (the Provosty home that was sold to Ratcliff) has been chopped up and moved. Have you been by lately?  Isn’t an empty lot with bricks scattered everywhere and an ugly flimsy piece of [plastic?] shoved up to form a haphazard fence just lovely?  That REALLY improved our street. 

Anyway, I won’t beat a dead horse there.  Hopefully, I will be getting a letter in the mail or a call from the City in the next few months making good on their promise of keeping me and Ms. Cook in the loop regarding the design of the bus station.  I have faith in the city and know that plans for revitalization are at heart of our very progressive City Leaders.  I am also a very proud and vocal supporter of the SPARC plan and what it can do to improve Alexandria.  THUMBS UP Mayor and City staff!

One last thing, I think it interesting that the paper again refers to Florence Avenue as “Mansion Row”.  Many people have casually called Florence Avenue “Mansion Row”, including Myron Lawson and other council members, due to the four large homes located in a row.  Since some of the historic mansions in the area have been torn down, or land sold off during the depression and bungalows built in between, it is rare to have four large homes, built circa 1900, still in a row.  The Historical Association, and me personally, have been advocating for an ordinance to officially make “Mansion Row” a local historic district.  This would bring two good things: 1) Local recognition; 2) the designated area eligible for State Tax credits and other incentives.  As far as I know, it would only take: 1) Passing the ordinance; and 2) a map drawn up of the historic district.  Then, by being recognized as a local historic district, it would make any home/building in that area eligible to apply to the State Tax Credit Program.  I have written Louis Marshall and have spoken with him about it.  I have also spoken with the HPC about it.  To date, it seems that no one has taken an interest in the project.  But, interestingly enough, this street is loosely known as “Mansion Row”.   Let’s make it official!!!!!

If there is anyone wishing to know if they are already in a local historic area or eligible for tax credits, please feel free to contact me.  Or you can click on the link above to read the State Tax Credit program requirements.

WE can do this!

SPARC

I think that this can be a good thing for our town.  We need to invest in our city’s future.  This can only be good for revitalization to our older neighborhoods.  If you would like to read the full SPARC plan, click here:  http://www.thetowntalk.com/assets/pdf/DK111786629.PDF

My favorite thing about this is that it suggests mixed income housing, beautifying gateways into the city (landscaping, signage, etc.), beefing up public transportation, and, lastly: “We need to preserve our parks, our recreational activities, and our neighborhoods.”

Double thumbs up!