Building the Future by Preserving the Past

Visit Albany, Oregon, and you’re quickly struck by the character of its historic downtown. Customers flock to its local businesses, and residents look with pride on the carefully restored buildings that are now home to restaurants, clothing stores, barber shops and more.

It’s hard to believe that this same downtown was once so well-known for its abandoned buildings that neighbors used to joke about selling it to Hollywood as a movie set.

So, what happened? Well, people like retired physician Skip Throop looked at those old buildings and saw the potential to create something beautiful. They then discovered a combination of local and state-level programs designed to help bring that inspiration to life.

“I bought two buildings that were in such rough shape, I couldn’t even get them insured. It was a huge effort,” Skip says. He acknowledges that buying and repairing the buildings may have seemed like a questionable business decision, but as he tells it, he had help from the beginning.

His first stop was the Central Albany Revitalization Area (CARA), a city government program that offers property owners like Skip the technical support they need to bring historic buildings back to life. CARA then connected Skip to the State of Oregon’s Main Street program, which offers a range of resources including a guide to Historic Preservation and Energy Efficiency [PDF] created by a partnership with Clatsop Community College, Energy Trust of Oregon and Pacific Power.

Together, these resources made a huge difference, both in terms of financing opportunities and brass-tacks technical knowledge about caring for old buildings.

“We serve historic communities, so we understand them. We bring energy expertise and guidance to help our communities strengthen historic business areas and honor their heritage,” said Alan Meyer, Pacific Power’s director of commercial accounts and community relations. “For customers like Skip, the opportunity is to modernize energy usage while preserving architectural integrity.”

Restoring the past while modernizing energy use

Skip decided to adopt the highest restoration standards, which are required to get a building on the National Historic Registry. Working closely with his contractor, Skip was able to restore his buildings to their original luster and dramatically improve their energy efficiency and performance.

“We weren’t in it alone,” he says. Other people were working on properties on the same block, and the momentum has continued to pick up speed, with over 20 new businesses opening up in downtown Albany in recent years.

This is Albany’s story, but it’s not an isolated one. All around Oregon and beyond, communities are coming together to breathe new lives into their downtowns and revive their local economies while they’re at it. No two towns are the same, but they all share the incredible potential to create an exciting future by embracing and preserving their past.

That’s the kind of greatness we can all believe in.

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