HOUSTON-Houston’s past needs some TLC, says a leading preservationist who was the keynote speaker for yesterday’s tour of historic areas, some of which are crying out for attention.

The Bayou City has “obviously not taken care of its historic stock,” Pres Kabacoff, president of Historic Restorations Inc. in New Orleans, told developers from the ranks of those with the finances to make a difference. Kabacoff specializes in community-at-large preservation projects.

It’s Houston’s progressive attitude, says Kabacoff, that most likely is the reason adaptive re-use and restoration of historic buildings haven’t gathered steam in the same way as New Orleans. It’s certainly not because Houston is void of population strength, opportunity or product.

Starting at the restored Union Station building at Enron Field, the tour wended through the East End and Warehouse District. Some buildings stand as good examples of profitable restorations, but many more stand as a testament to neglect. The potential is there in vacant properties such as the Savoy Flats at 1616 Main St. and Plaza Apartment Hotel at 5020 Montrose Blvd. or even the warehouse at 2321 Allen Parkway, which was built for Sears Roebuck & Co. All were built between 1905 and the late 1920s.

Developers were urged to consider all commercial uses as they scoped the prospects for mining Houston’s historic product. Restoration can pay off because people are willing to pay more to rent historic buildings, Kabacoff emphasizes. In the mid-1980s, he repositioned a historic apartment complex in New Orleans, taking the average 60 cents per sf to $1 per sf upon the project’s completion.

Kapacoff suggested developers look at the big picture rather than select buildings within a neighborhood. “Profitable preservation” is possible, he explains.

The Greater East End Management District, David S. Wolff of the Wolff Cos. and the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance hosted the event. In attendance were representatives from CB Richard Ellis Inc., Henry S. Miller Commercial, Cushman & Wakefield of Texas Inc., Boxer Properties and J.A. Billipp.

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