Renovation advice seeks to put buildings in a broader contextWhat to do with the old net shed?

A group of historic preservation experts from around Oregon and the United States took a crack at crafting a plan to restore the century-old landmark building perched on pilings over the Columbia near Uppertown.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation hosted a week-long Leadership training seminar that included a twist. Along with the usual program of speakers and panel discussions, the organization assigned the attendees the task of putting together restoration and development plans for two historic local properties - the net-drying shed and the Foss Maritime Complex at the foot of 14th Street.

Five teams were formed to work on the project, and they'll present their ideas to the public at 5:30 p.m. tonight at the Liberty Theater.

The annual leadership training shares information on financial, political and other aspects of historic preservation with groups and individuals.

But the team projects are the centerpiece of the workshops, which the National Trust has held around the country each year since 1990, according to Kathy Adams, director of the Trust's Center for Preservation Leadership. They typically focus on historic structures that have seen better days but are candidates for renovation and new use.

"We try to do something useful in the communities where we're invited," she said.

LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian

The Foss Maritime Complex at the foot of 14th Street was studied by attendees of the historic preservation workshop.The exercise is intended to let the trainees put some of their learning to use. But sometimes the resulting plans have actually been implemented, Adams said. During a workshop in Colorado, the attendees came up with development plans for a long-abandoned old hotel. Two years later, thanks in part to those plans, the building housed a flourishing mixed-use development, she said.

"It can really feel good," she said.

The Astoria projects included interviews with 20 local businesspeople, public officials and other figures, including local artist Royal Nebecker, owner of the net shed, and river pilot Mike Balensifer of Tonquin Resources, the buildings' new owner.

Tonquin plans to continue using the northern building as a tugboat moorage and communications center for river and bar pilots, but is seeking new uses for the other, more dilapidated building adjacent to the Riverwalk.

City of Astoria Community Development Director Todd Scott helped facilitate the team project interviews. A past leadership training "graduate" himself, he said having the National Trust workshop here "reinforces the unique heritage Astoria has, and hopefully helps our citizens understand they have something special."

Along with information on such areas as grant-writing, real estate markets and zoning, the training promotes networking among the attendees and "summer-camp bonding" that builds relationships that have lasted for years, Adams said.

One of the speakers was Donovan Rypkema, a nationally recognized historic redevelopment consultant, who said he tells preservation experts to consider the role that the real estate market plays in rehabilitating historic buildings. Restoring a "white elephant" building isn't feasible if the project doesn't pencil out economically, he said.

"Some are driven only by the aesthetics and the emotional attachment. That's fine, but it doesn't make mortgage payments," he said.

On the other hand, fixing an old building instead of tearing it down can pay long-term dividends some developers don't recognize, he said. Constructing a new building is almost always cheaper than rehabilitating an old structure, but because rehab projects are more labor-intensive than new construction, that means more employment for local contractors and builders.

But more importantly, historic buildings add value to the neighborhoods and districts where they're located, something often ignored by many developers plagued by what Rypkema called "lot-line myopia," the failure to see beyond the boundaries of their own property.

Successful restoration projects have three common features - the building is widely seen as an asset to the community, there is a small group of people dedicated to the project, and the resulting development is mixed-use, Rypkema said. There is usually some involvement by the public sector, if only to assist.

"That does not necessarily mean money - but if the local government it sitting on its hands, it's not going to work," he said.

The National Trust is already familiar with Astoria, having honored the Liberty Theater and Hotel Elliott. The town is big enough to have a wealth of historic structures, but small enough to see on foot, Adams said.

"It's too good to be true," she said.

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