Once the foundation of downtown New Bern, the historic building of Elks Temple has stood empty and untouched for over a decade.
The rusticated stone building, built in 1908, once housed a department store, soda shop, offices and the Elks Lodge.
At 41,433 square feet, five stories, water views, and two parcels that could accommodate 40 parking spaces, the property has potential.
“If this building were demolished, no one would ever build something this good or something that would help fuel New Bern’s economy,” said Tom Miller, president of Preservation Durham. “… this is a core building, if that were gone, your historic district would become a donut, it would always look like damaged goods.”
Empire Properties, a Raleigh-based real estate development company, has owned the property since 2007 and listed Elks Temple as a historic refurbishment and new build opportunity for $ 2.45 million.
Miller said he was surprised the building wasn’t bought and the delay could mean Empire Properties is looking for developer partners rather than a buyer.
Restoring an old building gives people a tangible experience of history and also offers economic benefits, said Maggie Gregg, regional director of Preservation North Carolina’s Eastern Office.
“Preserving the historical structures also has economic effects, economic development and local effects,” said Gregg. “Once the restoration is complete and the building is back in service, it will not only add to the property tax value of that building but also create job creation when it is converted into a new store or business.”
If a residential route is chosen, a population density arises in the inner city core of a city.
The renovation of the elk temple would not only be a good investment for the aesthetics of the historic old town of New Bern, but also bring tax advantages.
“I mean, essentially 35 percent of your actual conversion, your rehab expenses, are being returned to you in the form of tax credits, the rehab suddenly becomes very attractive,” Miller said.
The renovation of income-generating historic buildings enables owners and developers to receive a 20 percent federal income tax credit and a state income tax credit of 15 to 25%. For example, a project with $ 1 million in rehabilitation costs could result in a tax credit of $ 350,000.
The federal income tax credit has been in place since 1976, and the NC State Historic Preservation Office has approved more than 3,100 certified projects in North Carolina.
As of 2015, there had been 26 income-generating tax credit projects in New Bern, the largest of which was the conversion of Clarks Drug Store into a law firm. The project resulted in tax credits of $ 1.6 million.
The incentive is intended to promote both monument protection and economic development.
To receive the tax credit, a building must be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, undergo a major renovation, and meet the Department of Interior’s standards for redevelopment requests.
The Elkstempel building has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973 when much of downtown New Bern was added.
A beloved inn saved from ruin
“A boutique hotel in a building like this would be in pretty high demand, but the standards for converting it into a hotel would be pretty high,” Miller said. “… Downstairs you have rustic stone, in the middle you have these blond bricks, it’s just beautiful, I think living is what you are likely to see, more apartments or condominiums would be really nice.”
Rustic stone was popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and was inspired by the Florentine Renaissance, where the technique was used to distinguish the functions of different floors.
It is possible to convert the Elks Temple building into a hotel, but it could be difficult to comply with hotel fire regulations. Miller said that old buildings often don’t have the staircase and access capacity necessary for proper fire escapes.
The Historic Colonial Inn of Hillsborough, NC was originally built in 1838 and converted into a boutique hotel in 2020, which is currently one of the oldest in the state. The inn has 28 rooms, a bar and is just 0.1 km from the attractions of Hillsborough town center.
After the inn and the restaurant had survived the looting of the Union troops during the civil war, it went into private ownership in 2001. The building was boarded up and uninhabitable, to the horror of many locals who fondly remembered the space.
“Nothing really was done to save it, and that’s where the pain came in. People had all these wonderful memories of the inn and it just fell apart before their eyes,” said Elise Tyler, general manager of the Colonial Inn.
In 2018, a team of nine families bought the building and set about restoring it to its former glory.
She said the biggest challenge in renovations is installing ventilation, heating and sprinkler systems to bring the building under current fire regulations.
“The only thing that keeps you through all of these challenges is the gratitude and excitement people feel when they walk through the doors,” said Tyler.
No new, spacious residential complex has been built in New Bern since 2007, but a study from 2015 showed that demand would support this.
More:Downtown New Bern is a popular location, but what does the future look like?
Gregg said the high demand for living in a restored historic building is due, among other things, to the sustainability element, the character of the structure and the location.
Since the building will not be demolished and dumped in a landfill, there is an environmentally friendly component to maintaining an old building. People often like the character and history of an old building that can be seen through original floors, panes of glass, or moldings, Gregg said.
“These are often located in the city centers, they are within walking distance of many amenities. The accessibility of a restaurant or café is attractive in my opinion, ”said Gregg.
Elks Temple is steps from New Bern’s most popular restaurants and just blocks from the waterfront.
Lessons from Durham and Kinston
The revitalization of downtown Durham was driven by the reuse and preservation of its historic buildings, which began when Adam Abrams converted old tobacco warehouses into condominiums. When these were successful, multi-use projects like Bright Leaf Square emerged.
“Downtown commercial buildings that had been vacant for years turned to gold and historic residential areas around the city center also began to recover and flourish,” Miller said.
The Capitol Broadcasting Company developed American Tobacco’s campus apartments, which are some of the most expensive units in Durham today, with 2 bedroom units listed in the $ 200.0s.
“These projects, which took place in a steady crescendo, led to the revitalization of our once-dead inner city. I have lived in Durham for 65 years and have seen her at the top of her Tobacco Town game, in the depths of her decline in urban renewal, and now her renewal, ”said Miller. “It’s remarkable.”
A revitalization of a town near New Bern was also driven by the artisanal reuse of once derelict building, downtown Kinston. Born and raised, resident Stephen Hill restored several old buildings including Mother Earth Brewing, O’Neil Hotel, Imperial Apartments, and Mother Earth Motor Lodge.
Seven luxury rooms and a lobby are now in the 1924 boutique hotel, which still has a 16-ton original vault door.
The Imperial Apartments are located in a building originally constructed in 1921 and meet Kinston’s short and long term housing needs. Hill said they are aimed at employees who are moving to Kinston and want to get to know the city.
The original Motorlodge opened in 1964 but became a place for illegal activity in the late 1970s and 1980s, Hill said. Just outside the public library and right in the middle of town, the once family-friendly lodge became Kinston’s eyesore and brought a lot of unwanted activity to the streets.
“I mean, it just changes the dynamics of a city. It’s very expensive and it’s obviously cheaper to build a brand new building than to remodel a historic building, ”said Hill.
He said that despite the tax breaks, redevelopment is still more expensive than demolishing and rebuilding, but there are features in older buildings that could never be restored.
Old buildings usually have good bones and walls, Hill said, but the problem often comes with the roof, which he’s found to be true on his various renovation projects.
“It’s good to see people go downtown, and it’s also great to see families and their children enjoy everything that is there,” said Hill. “… What it really takes is someone who loves where they grew up, I really enjoy going out and just seeing people who you wouldn’t dare to leave the building 15 years ago. It does, it changes a city. “
Growth and Development Reporter Julia Masters can be reached at [email protected] or (828) 318-3108.