Preservation Partnering Part 2: HBI Forges Partnerships to Increase Capacity for Neighborhood Revitalization

Preservation Partnering Part 2: HBI Forges Partnerships to Increase Capacity for Neighborhood Revitalization

This is Part 2 of a series of blogs whereby HBI’s Jeffrey Morgan discusses various preservation partnering scenarios and the opportunities they present to steward long vacant and blighted properties to new uses that add new life to their communities thereby contributing to the economic revitalization of their neighborhoods. Part 1 discussed the redevelopment of the Roslindale Substation in partnership with Roslindale Village Main Streets (RVMS) and our for-profit partner, Peregrine Group, LLC.

Fowler Clark Epstein Farm, Mattapan

HBI recently closed on the purchase of the Fowler Clark Epstein Farm, what is likely Mattapan’s oldest building. Partnering with the Urban Farming Institute (UFI), The Trust for Public Land (TPL), and North Bennet Street School (NBSS) redevelopment of the farmstead will couple the mission of preserving a significant historic Boston Landmark with the mission of farmer training and creating and promoting urban farming enterprises. The redeveloped farmstead will become the home and headquarters for UFI.

The farmstead consists of a historic house (c. 1786-1806) and detached barn (1860) on about two-thirds of an acre and represents one of the earliest, intact vernacular examples of agricultural properties in Boston. With its history of agriculture and its location in an urban neighborhood sorely lacking =access to fresh produce, Fowler Clark Epstein Farm presents incredible opportunity to connect city residents to the history and modern day opportunities of farming providing experience-based education for youth, adults and families; and encouraging visitors to be informed and active in their local food system.

Coupling preservation with urban farming builds capacity for social impact

As a “preservation partnering” approach to real estate redevelopment, bringing together four nonprofit organizations is both a compelling idea and a challenging undertaking, and offers great potential for preserving a significant property, maximizing social impact, and helping to revitalize an inner-city neighborhood. The alignment of missions, the sharing of resources, and determining fundraising strategies are all layered on top of the other more typical aspects of partnering such as defining roles and responsibilities of the partners and working through the communication and personality aspects of a business partner relationship.

Some of the keys to achieving a successful partnership and therefore a successful project include the underlying belief in mission and impact opportunity of the project.

For HBI, the preservation of the significant historic farm buildings is an opportunity to preserve an important part of the history of Boston and repurpose it into an economically viable property that contributes to the vitality of a neighborhood and community. A bonus is if it can also incent additional adjacent improvements within the neighborhood. Partnering with NBSS on the reconstruction of significant historic architectural features of the buildings furthers their mission of preserving the knowledge and woodworking skills needed to build and repair traditional wood framing and detailing. This will be the second time that HBI and NBSS have partnered on a preservation reconstruction project supported by a grant from the 1772 Foundation. So for HBI, while partnering with real estate developers and historic preservation organizations is not new, partnering with urban farming organizations is new.

Once HBI secured the farmstead finding just the right partners for the farming activities was critical to a successful partnership. UFI had already forged a partnership with TPL on acquiring and developing land for urban farming. Their first project together was the Garrison-Trotter Farm. Their partnership is part of a statewide community agriculture program that will invest $1 million in Boston neighborhood farms over the next several years, greening the city and providing healthy, local produce to the low-income neighborhoods of Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan. The fact that Patricia Spence, the executive director of UFI, grew up in Mattapan and has a personal connection to the neighborhood and the farm is just icing on the cake.

The devil is in the details

Once the alignment of mission and interest is established and the intent to form the partnership becomes clear, the work of the legal arrangement needs to be worked out. In any real estate partnership, the partners bring to the relationship two primary components, skills and capital. These are then translated into the roles and responsibilities as well as ownership interest in the project.

Though the mission of HBI is historic preservation of significant properties in Boston, HBI is a real estate redeveloper and brings all the skills and capacities in that arena to the redevelopment of the Fowler Clark Epstein Farm project. Its role and responsibility therefore is as real estate developer putting together the capital and funding sources needed for the redevelopment of the farm buildings.

Though HBI will hold certain properties it redevelops for long-term income generation, it primary develops historic properties as a revolving fund whereby the asset is sold after redevelopment and any tax credit compliance period. This allows HBI to recapture equity to be redeployed into another project to further the mission and work of the organization. HBI therefore will provide real estate development expertise and finance expertise, will raise some of the capital to fund the project but the ultimate goal for the Fowler Clark Epstein Farm will be to transition ownership to UFI.

HBI does not, however, have expertise on farm development. This is where TPL comes in. TPL is a national organization that creates parks and protects land for people and communities. They also conserve working farms, ranches and forests. Working in the Boston area with UFI they are creating farms by developing vacant lots and other available urban land. As a part of the partnership with UFI, TPL provides their expertise in farm development and the capital to fund the project but will not retain any ownership in the property.

UFI as a farmer training and farm creation organization will be the end-user of the facility and ultimately the owner of the property. UFI will also raise some of the capital to fund the development project and therefore be an owner in the project. However, during the property development period and throughout the five year historic tax credit compliance period, HBI with its property management and finance expertise, will maintain an interest in the ownership and serve as managing member of the property.

Though this partnership structure is essentially in place, we are just beginning. When it?s all said and done, the success of the redevelopment of the Fowler Clark Epstein Farm will not only be the result of the meaningful work of the four committed mission driven nonprofit organizations. It will take forging partnerships with the City of Boston, private donors and foundations, and the community groups and neighbors of Mattapan.

Stay Tuned – more preservation partnering approaches to come

HBI is engaging in many different “preservation partnering” approaches to real estate redevelopment of historic properties. In the next installment of the series, HBI’s Jeffrey Morgan will discuss the partnership structure for the redevelopment and re-purposing of a Mission style comfort station along the unrealized section of Fredrick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace.