Historic Preservation - Background & Impact

Michael Tomlan, is professor of historic preservation and planning at Cornell University, and, especially if you have any interest in attending Cornell to do some graduate studies in real estate professor Tomlan is definitely the man you want to know because he also chairs the admissions committee.

I have a personal soft spot for historic preservation and, despite the resistance many developers and investors have to even attempting to touch such monuments due to preconceived ideas about expense and costly bureaucracy, I have always found them particularly lucrative.  Tenants love them.  The investor pool for them is reduced, perhaps, but those that do have interest typically harbor greater appreciation than they would for non-historic buildings and consequently are more likely to attach greater value to them.  And in some cases there are not inconsequential tax benefits that help enhance the bottom line.  I love history and so it was a great pleasure to speak to Professor Tomlan and to understand more about the background to historic preservation and how it came to be an important feature in real estate here in the United States.

What is History as it Pertains to Real Estate?

How can something as abstract as ‘history’ be defined to the point that property rights can be affected?  What is the foundation upon which, here in America, history has become as much a part of a building’s defining characteristics as its architecture, construction, or functionality?

Supreme Court cases are definitive of the fabric of American society, culture, and social values.  So, before hearing Professor Tomlan explain further the background to and implications of the Penn Central Supreme Court decision, let’s actually listen to part of it right now.  The Penn Central Transportation Company versus New York City case was argued at the Supreme Court of the United States, on April the 17th, 1978.  The court returned its opinion on June 26th that same year.  The opinion in its entirety – it lasts about three minutes - is contained in the podcast, framed by Professor Tomlan's comments and insights.

Where The Common Good Can Supersede Higher Returns

Fascinating right.  All those historic preservation discussions you hear about and come across – whether at planning commission hearings, or architectural review committee meetings, or when you consider buying a home in a historic preservation overlay zone – they all rest upon the Penn Central supreme court decision of 1978.  Property rights are not absolute, in America.  A fair return on investment is accepted, but is not an inalienable right, and the common good will prevail when our awareness of history is to be preserved.  That seems to me to be a very civilized behavior.

While the United States might have recklessly lobbed tea overboard on one frivolous night in Boston and abandoned the monarchy, leaving it with only the President and first lady upon whom it must now rely for guidance on culture and tradition – need I say more - it is reassuring that this country has managed, through historic preservation, to hold on to at least some of the stable values of the Old World.

Please also take a look at Professor Tomlan’s book, Historic Preservation; Caring for our Expanding Legacy, and also to his company that sells historic maps, called Historic Urban Plans.

If you like the podcast and think it time well spent, please tell your friends and colleagues to go to www.NREForum.org where they can find this and all prior episodes, and please think about subscribing on iTunes or android or whatever platform you listen on.  Links to these and more are provided at www.NREforum.org