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Study shows economic development value of historic preservation

SALT LAKE CITY — Preserving historic buildings and sites creates jobs and increases property values, according to a study released Monday by the Utah Heritage Foundation.

The study, conducted by Washington, D.C., real estate and economic development consulting firm PlaceEconomics, found that 7,313 jobs were created annually directly or indirectly by the heritage portion of Utah’s tourism industry. In addition, 4,969 total jobs were created between 1990 and 2012 using federal or state historic tax credits, according to the report.

"What was really powerful was all of the job creation done in historic preservation activity using either the federal or the state historic tax credits," PlaceEconomics principal Donovan Rypkema said. "This is a very well-paid, labor-intensive activity."

Sixty-two heritage sites and events were visited and evaluated between November 2012 and June of this year for the study. Based on 2012 data, those sites attracted more than 7.2 million visitors annually and show visitors spending nearly $400 million a year.

Using data from an econometric model called Implan, the study indicates that for every $1 million invested in rehabilitating historic buildings in Utah, 17.7 direct and indirect jobs are created, resulting in $850,554 in direct and indirect salary and wages. The $1 million also generates almost $100,000 in economic activity elsewhere in the economy, as well as $34,217 in state sales tax and indirect business tax, according to the study.

Utah Heritage Foundation executive director Kirk Huffaker said the complete 24-page report will be available next month.

"For people that don't really understand preservation, I think this can be exciting for them as well because it really shows how historic preservation contributes to the economy of Utah," Huffaker said.

After Rypkema presented the study results Monday in Park City, Huffaker said audience members stayed to discuss how the study could be leveraged and promoted in their city.

"I think everyone felt that it lent a credibility to historic preservation and with that might be able to push for some new policy," he said.

The Utah Heritage Foundation was happy with the results in all areas, Huffaker said, specifically the findings that there is positive net revenue from historic preservation in the Beehive State.

"(The study) really shows that there are very tangible economic developments," Huffaker said.

Rypkema said some of the most surprising findings were in analyzing national and local historic districts in Logan, Ogden, Park City, Provo and Salt Lake City.

He said foreclosure rates were lower in cities with historic districts than the rest of the city.

"These historic districts have a stability on property values," Rypkema said.

When an older house is demolished and replaced with a new one, there are 350 tons of raw and waste materials, compared with 50 tons when rehabilitating the same older house, according to the study.

Art Raymond, spokesman for Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, said the Salt Lake City-County Building is an example of an iconic and historic building in the city that has been preserved.

The building “continues to be this fabulous place from which city government operates,” Raymond said, and is “certainly one of the buildings most people make note of and appreciate, whether they’re residents or visitors.”

Another more recent example is the former Salt Lake City library that now houses The Leonardo. Raymond said it isn't very dramatic-looking, but it has architectural significance.

“It’s that contribution that historic structures have for our local environment and our cultural heritage" that is important to Mayor Becker, he said, and why he works closely with the Utah Heritage Foundation to keep those buildings.

Huffaker said it may not be immediate, but he hopes the study will change the current perception that historic preservation comes at a cost without a benefit.