Why now is the best time to kick-off your historic restoration projects

If you haven’t heard about the Opportunity Zone initiatives that just rolled into the Kansas City Metropolitan area, you are out of the loop.

But that’s okay - we get it. Sometimes we are simply too busy to stay caught up on everything happening in Kansas City - one of the fastest growing cities in the US.

However, as a media blaster, Blast It Clean often collaborates with architects and general contractors in the restoration of historic buildings across the Midwest region.

Therefore, we decided to put together this article to cover what’s going on with the KC Metro Area and how you, as a developer, an architect or a contractor, can benefit from these new trends.

In this article, we will cover the basics of the opportunity zone, why we are bringing up the historic restoration topic at this point, what we think historic restoration is really about, and most importantly, how to do it right.

Let’s begin.

What is the Opportunity Zone Program

The Opportunity Zones program encourages long-term investment and job creation in low-income areas of the state, by allowing investors to re-invest unrealized capital gains in designated census tracts.
— KCEDC

Kansas City Opportunity Zones (Photo credit: Missouri DED)

The opportunity zone program, in short, is a program encouraging investment and re-development in what were traditionally considered to be distressed areas. These areas include the lower-income areas and neighborhoods, as well as the “dirty, inaccessible” industrial districts.

According to Missouri Dept of Economic Development (DED), 11% of the US population and territories live in an Opportunity Zone. These zones are evenly split between rural and urban zip codes, with an average poverty rate of 31%. To decide which zones are chosen as part of this program, the state of Missouri primarily relied on local input. In other words, these zones were chosen by local residents, recognized as areas that most needed fund injection and re-development.

While urban and rural development is a crucial topic in any city, Kansas City has a long track of record in rejuvenating distressed areas in order to overcome the negative impact left behind by decisions in the past. However, lack of security, protection and most importantly, return has always been a challenge developers must confront. Therefore, the opportunity zone program will help Kansas City developers to tap into those less-touched areas even more, this time with confidence and security, guaranteed by relevant tax codes and other supportive policies applicable to the entire KC-Metro region.

What does opportunity zone have to do with historic restoration

Simply put, there are two ways to develop a distressed area, or an opportunity zone.

One, is to build new structures - either by demolishing at risk buildings or purchasing abandoned land-lots to start a new construction project.

The second method, naturally, consists of making use of existing resources, mostly vacant buildings at functional condition. In other words, part of the opportunity zone program is asking developers to look into historic buildings and find out means to bring out new values to the surrounding communities.

Kansas City has five opportunity zones — three east of Troost Avenue, one in Martin City and one in the Blue River Valley industrial corridor.
— KC Business Journal

Kansas City has an established history of building renovation and restorations. In mid 2018, the former KC Star Building gained approval of a $95 million redevelopment plan "that includes renovating the historic structure and building a boutique grocery store and marketplace above a 500-space underground garage (KCUR)". In late 2018, the first major renovation project for the West Bottoms flats officially kicked off, intending to renovate an old warehouse building into modern apartment complexes while preserving the historic value of the original structure and design.

3D rendering of the new renovation program including the old KC Star building. (Photo credit: KC Business Journal)

Now, these are just a few buildings laying around the KC-metro area. Most of these projects fought a long way to acquire historic tax credits and tax abatement, whereas the Opportunity Zone program comes with its own support for credits and abatement.

Almost all of the "zones" in Kansas City have a profound history, especially the east-Troost neighborhoods and the Blue River Valley Industrial Corridor (BRVIC). As EDCKC pointed in their latest economic strategy adaption at the beginning of 2018, their purpose is to "make development-ready land parcels, some with transfers of surplus city-owned property, (and make BRVIC) into an industrial 'land bank'."

What this ultimately means is that, the city and development organizations are encouraging investors and developers to rediscover the values left in what we call "the old buildings" - to make use of the structure and the space, as well as the historic value that cannot be reproduced or replaced that are in these buildings.

The key to historic restoration

Did you know that there are 150 historic buildings in Downtown Kansas City alone?


Historic restoration is a tricky line of work.

Why?

Because we are dealing with something that can never be replaced. The hundreds of years of structural history cannot be replaced if damaged. The historic architectural design cannot be replaced once demolished - unless one were to completely rebuild the exact same design, and that takes skills, research and dedication.

The original building to be renovated into a garage (photo credit: KC business Journal)

Fortunately, there are plenty of professionals, including architects and contractors, who are familiar with not only the value, but also the key to historic restoration.

To summarize everything in one sentence:

The key to historic restoration is restoring its structural integrity so the building could bring new value to the community while preserving the irreplaceable historic value the building possesses.

This means removing any unwanted weather damage, dirt and other pollutants, while preserving the structures underneath. This means clean without invasion, and renovate without damage.

At the end, it comes down to experience, expertise, but most importantly, the right kind of method and solution.

Building exteriors.  (Photo Credit: Blast It Clean)

Building exteriors. (Photo Credit: Blast It Clean)

How to do it right

You might have heard the disadvantages of using abrasive blasting on a historic restoration project. You might have heard how invasive and aggressive this method is that it completely vetoed the whole point of preservation.

But is it true?

The answer is no.

Yes, abrasive blasting is aggressive. However, it will not take the value off your building structure, nor damage the building, if it is done properly, and with the proper media.

The no.1 choice of blasting media for historic restoration projects will be dry ice. Dry ice pellets are solidified CO2, meaning that, upon impact, they return to its gas form. In other words, dry ice blasting avoids causing damage to the historic structure, however, it is aggressive enough to remove unwanted materials, especially paint from the structure. Dry ice blasting will not stain or scratch the surface, and neither will it create secondary pollution as the pellets vaporize once they make contact with the surface.

But, this doesn’t mean that other media blasting methods are inappropriate. In fact, they turn out to be extremely effective both in terms of restoration and preservation.

Ultimately, media blasting is a solution for surface preparation. And like every other solution in this world, there are different specialty media options that suit different types of surfaces.

In historic buildings, the four most common types of surface are:

  • Brick

  • Concrete/Masonary

  • Wood

  • Stone

Each of these materials can handle different degrees of  intrusion and blasting. Therefore, what may damage one surface could be perfectly suitable to be used on another- and it calls for professionalism, knowledge, experience and expertise to give the right answer. Blast It Clean has been working on historic restoration projects for over ten years, and we still take every project with caution and conduct detailed site walkthroughs before making a decision, because these historic buildings can always come with surprises.

Conclusion

Media blasting is a necessary step in the majority of historic restoration projects.

Old paint (failing paint) that is damaged through time and weather is best to be removed so new paint can be reapplied - giving the historic building a renewed lifespan. Exterior surfaces that collected unwanted materials such as dirt and grease should always be cleaned before open to the public…

These are just a few things that need to be considered when looking at a historic restoration project.

And yes, we understand: these projects can be challenging and time-consuming.

But once again, right now is the perfect time to start your next development project utilizing these historic buildings scattered across the KC Metropolitan area.

With the Opportunity Zone program providing tax credits, tax abatement, and most importantly, investment security, you will be able to finally bring that one daring renovation project to life.`

By highlighting distressed areas and areas that could benefit the most from fund injection and commercial developments, the opportunity zone program is building a nutritious soil for historic development projects to grow.

Kansas City has a history of imbalanced development, but we also have an amazing record of renovation that brings new value out of the historic building. With the business scene in Kansas City thriving, the historic restoration topic will continue to be on everyone’s agenda.

So when will be a better time to kick-off your historic restoration project, if not now?