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TEDxCLE - Thomas Starinsky - Building Community Through Historic Preservation
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TEDxCLE - Thomas Starinsky - Building Community Through Historic Preservation


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Thomas Starinsky has been with the Historic Warehouse District Development Corporation and Historic Gateway Neighborhood Corporation since 2002. As Associate Director, he serves as the Main Street …

Thomas Starinsky has been with the Historic Warehouse District Development Corporation and Historic Gateway Neighborhood Corporation since 2002. As Associate Director, he serves as the Main Street Manager for both organizations, where his responsibilities include managing the City's Storefront Renovation Program in the Central Business District, overseeing the Design Review Committees and coordinating special infrastructure and planning projects. His work concentrates on sustaining and enhancing the sense of place in downtown Cleveland - whether its developing dynamic business signage or coordinating the Warehouse District's community driven Public Realm Plan.
Mr. Starinsky is also active in community development as a volunteer in Cleveland's Larchmere neighborhood - his home neighborhood. Here he has served as the Board President of the Shaker Square Area Development Corporation; Chair of the Larchmere Boulevard Master Plan Committee and Co-Chair of Buckeye-Larchmere Community Planning Initiative. Mr. Starinsky has a Bachelors of Fine Art from the Cleveland Institute of Art in Sculpture and a Masters of Urban Planning, Design and Development from Cleveland State University. Mr. Starinsky was recognized for his achievements by his inclusion in the 2006 class of Crain's Cleveland Business' Forty Under 40.
The Historic Warehouse District Development Corporation (HWD) and Historic Gateway Neighborhood Corporation (HGN) are non-profit organizations that work through a joint staffing cooperative with the community toward the goal of creating and sustaining a dynamic mixed-use residential neighborhood. The efforts toward this goal run through several initiatives including development and historic preservation technical assistance; business technical assistance; mixed-use master planning; promotions and special events. Since the early 1980s, the Cleveland's Downtown has seen close to a $1 billion in private investment that was leveraged using historic preservation strategies.
About TEDx, x=independently organized event
In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x=independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.*
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  • What are the factors that lead to one decision over the other? What are the decisions that led Cleveland and many other cities to evolve from vibrant commercial cores…. This is view of the Historic Warehouse District near the turn of the century.
  • To here – where the value of the land as parking is perceived to be higher than the building itself and the community around it. (I especially like the building on the lower left where the building owner wanted the best of both worlds so they wrapped the historic building with a parking structure!)Well obviously many of the answers to these questions rest with the evolution of the America’s economy and post industrial and post war priorities.But, more than likely the ultimate decisions on these individual properties are based on value. One way to think about value is the value of the parcel of land, the value of its use or perceived use. Another way to think about it is – what is the value of this building to the community – its history, its sense of place, its place in the evolution of the city or neighborhood. You might be thinking – how do you place value on something as ethereal as history or evolution? Well you can’t, but what you can do is look at a building’s value – not in terms of its value today only, but look at it as a part of a community and how this building can sustain value over time.Let me offer you two illustrations here in Cleveland where community and long term value were key to the decisions made about place.
  • The story about the Historic Warehouse District is a story about the evolution of a place. As you can see from these images from the 80s, it’s hard to believe anyone finding value in these buildings, let alone a collection of buildings, in this condition. Demolition for parking became a very real option as offices and the justice center were built adjacent to the district.This is where the revitalization of the District begins in the early 80s – a fairly typical grassroots preservation story where a group of citizens came together to advocate against indiscriminant demolition.
  • They saw value in giving the buildings a new life. This is those buildings today.I suppose having an appreciation for architecture plays an integral role here, but the real impetus here is the value in the use of the economic tools of historic preservation – tax credits, the alternative building code for older buildings, historic conservation easements – that give these buildings their redevelopment potential in addition to providing the ability for communities to build upon the history of a place and sustain its evolution. But lets dig deeper. What does saving these historic structures really mean to the economic health of the city?In the early 80s when this effort started there we 6 buildings occupied and 55 vacant – nobody lived in this area … legally.Over time incremental development occurred with the guidance of a master planToday there is 1 vacant building
  • Over $500 million has been invested in the District in that time and because of that investment the District now has over 3,000 people who call this place home; another 3,000 come here to work
  • and approximately 20,000 weekly visitors come to enjoy 50 businesses that include neighborhood amenities like – an independent grocery, a local coffee shop, award winning restaurants and some of the best night clubs in the city
  • So we go from a group of underutilized buildings that were generating little to the city’s economy to an effort that created construction jobs to rehabilitate the structures; and filled the buildings with businesses on the ground floor and residents and employees above – each generating revenue into the city’s economy through commercial and income taxes. The district evolved from a derelict place to a vibrant neighborhood. Now you should take note – in this story I have not said one thing about history of this district – the fact that the Bingham Building boasted to be the world’s largest hardware store or the location of Cleveland’s original lighthouse (SAY THE STREET? OR WAS IT ACTUALLY ON THE SITE OF THE BINGHAM?) or the amazing details of the arches on the Bradley Building (GOT ANYTHING BETTER THAN “AMAZING ARCHES? MAYBE USE AN ARCHITECT’S NAME OR TERM?)
  • I want to circle back to the parking lots for a second and the value the owners place on the property. There is no question that a parking lot has value – it very cheap to create a lot, low maintenance – you just paints some lines on the pavement and people give you money to park their car there. But, consider the value of the land if you didn’t tear the buildings down.Both of these former warehouse buildings are now mixed-use residential buildings – 250 and 340 units respectively. Both also have parking within the building. Both have an occupancy rates over 90%.
  • This new construction building is built on top of existing parking garage. The building now houses 80 condos with individual units valued from $300,000 to over $1 million each. It also provides parking for the condo residents, parking for nearby residents as well as for a nearby major office tenant.So the value of that lot might be great today on its own, but how will that value continue to contribute to the value of the community? Currently, the owners’ of the lots in the District perceive the value of the land to be great, when in fact it is so grossly overinflated that they remain undeveloped. In my opinion they lost the real value of the lot when the building was torn down. Building on these parking lots will require an investment that is most likely more than all the investment that has occurred to date in the District. Most likely, it will require heavy subsidy and will not benefit from financial incentives available to historic structures.Which brings me to my second illustration of the evolution of a place in Cleveland.
  • The Historic Gateway Neighborhood is an interesting story because its current evolution starts with parking lots. A decision about value has already been made.
  • This is what that the Gateway Sports Complex replaced – the Sheriff Street Market – later known as Central Market. The unfortunate reality of this place was the decision to locate the highway just to the south of it, which ultimately decimated the neighborhood around the market which began its declineSo this story is about what can be done about the quality of the place we can recreate as we knit that place back together.
  • When the Gateway Sports Complex was being planned in the early 90s several key decisions were made:Locate the sports complex at the southern end of downtownPrioritize key north south connections for traffic and pedestriansBuild fewer parking structures at the site and distribute parking throughout the areaThe plan also included a historic structures analysis that identified all of the buildings eligible for historic preservation tools that were already being used in the HWD. Through thoughtful planning, the project becomes an economic development strategy that encourages people to walk through the district. The combined strategy provides a market for the redevelopment of the historic buildings and a mechanism for the neighborhood to evolve and sustain itself.
  • This all makes the condition of these buildings and proposition to redevelop them - less daunting.
  • Today there has been over $600 million invested in the Neighborhood that includes 1,500 residents, hotels, over 60 businesses including shopping, restaurants, and a variety of entertainment venues in addition to the sports venues. What’s interesting about this story is that the sports complex leveraged the projects around it, but now Neighborhood is not solely reliant on the Sports Complex to sustain the businesses. With housing, a rebounding office market, and new entertainment venues, the Neighborhood is a destination in and of itself. The success of the Neighborhood is in the reuse of these older buildings – giving them a new life and a new purpose. You can really see how the buildings and community have evolved.
  • Let’s take the East Fourth Street.The history on East Fourth Street is an example of how a street can evolve in and of it self – this slide shows the east side of the street at two different periods in time – the building of the Euclid Avenue Opera House (notice the tiny house); later as a confluence of discount department stores.
  • Today East Fourth Street thrives as a result of mindful community planning and commitment from one developer to realize the plan. The street current evolution includes great restaurants entertainment with housing on the upper floors. The development of each building used some combination of HTC, conservation easements and some state HTC.
  • So how does this story of these communities continue? How do we build upon our success and continue to reinvigorate our historic buildings? How have we learned from our past mistakes and avoid them in the future?While we can’t help but think how would the story be different if we saved these buildings - like the Blackstone and Power Block – and weren’t strapped with these parking lots that separate the Historic Warehouse District from Public Square. Its important to learn from historic places – those we have lost and those that still exist – as we make decisions about revitalizing our cities today – their sense of scale and proportion and community. 
  • What is the decision that we will make about these buildings – the Stanley Block , the oldest building downtown with rich history and intact – although tired – features including a ballroom on the top floor and The Columbia building – sturdy building with tremendous adaptive reuse potential.Do we demolish them to make way for a parking garage for the newly approved casino?Or do we look at the community holistically, looking at new development and parking in a way that continues the planning and economic development strategy laid out with the Gateway Sports Complex?Do we look major developments singularly without regard to its affect on the community? Or do we look to major investments as a way to leverage the marketability for older structures providing the ability for community to evolve and sustain itself?
  • The places we preserve are great on many levels – they ground us in our rich cultural heritage; they give us a sense of place; they build communities.The decisions we make individually and collectively will determine success our cities. I believe that we owe to ourselves to see the value in these buildings beyond today and create a means for our communities to evolve and thereby become more sustainable.
  • E. B. White ends the book with a passage about an old willow tree in an interior garden in Turtle Bay. He speaks about this tree as a symbol for cities - life under difficulties, growth against odds, in the midst of concrete. And then he speaks about its significance to the city – the fact that – to him – this particular tree must be saved. “If it were to go, all would go – this city, this mischievous and marvelous monument which not to look upon would be like death.” 
  • Transcript

    • 1. Building Community Through
      Historic Preservation:
      Decisions on the Evolution of Cities
      Thomas Starinsky
    • 2. “…curiously affected by the emanations from the immediate surrounding.” E. B. White
    • 3. Historic Warehouse District
    • 4. Historic Warehouse District
    • 5. Historic Warehouse District
    • 6. Historic Warehouse District
    • 7. Historic Warehouse District
    • 8. Historic Warehouse District
    • 9. Historic Warehouse District
    • 10. Historic Warehouse District
    • 11. Historic Warehouse District
    • 12. Historic Gateway Neighborhood
    • 13. Historic Gateway Neighborhood
      Sheriff Street Market
    • 14. Historic Gateway Neighborhood
    • 15. Historic Gateway Neighborhood
    • 16. Historic Gateway Neighborhood
    • 17. Historic Gateway Neighborhood
    • 18. Historic Gateway Neighborhood
    • 19. Blackstone and Power Block
    • 20. Decisions on Stanley Block & Columbia Blg.
      Prospect Ave. at Ontario St.
    • 21.
    • 22. “If it were to go, all would go - this city, this mischievous and marvelous monument which not to look upon would be like death.” E. B. White