Not Exiled on Main Street

Brokers are relocating their offices to historic city centers, purchasing and renovating real estate gems by taking advantage of redevelopment funds.

March 6, 2015

Brokers can play a major role in community revitalization — not just through their deals, but with their very own presence.

Downtown redevelopment projects that restore centers of commerce and celebrate a city’s history are a thriving trend in the real estate industry. Often, brokers are at the heart of that trend, connecting themselves to the community and spurring business. And like the smart entrepreneurs they are, brokers are not only nvesting their own money, they’re also accessing resources to make it happen.

When Christina Moon, broker-owner of Crossroads Real Estate Investments Inc. in Denison, Texas, bought a foreclosed optometrist’s office in 2007 for her business, the building lacked a welcoming presence. Nothing about the massive 1960s concrete facade and the rotted wood windows said “come in and stay awhile.” The historic building needed some TLC.

Eight years later, Moon has restored the eyesore to its 1894 glory thanks to the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street program, which supplies grant money to cities for local improvements. Moon replaced the windows, removed the concrete facade and accompanying frame structure, and touched up paint on exposed bricks. The$3,000 grant helped Moon keep renovation costs close to her $10,000 budget.

The two-story red brick storefront now houses two tenants: Moon’s company and an art gallery. A coffee shop and other retailers occupy adjacent storefronts. What’s more, Moon’s project has spurred other restorations on the block.

“REALTORS® are critical to the success of our downtown,” says Donna Dow, director of Denison’s Main Street program. “Being familiar with available properties and trends helps move our buildings from vacant to thriving businesses.”

In a development era ruled by highway strip malls, automobiles, and fast-food chains, Moon’s efforts spotlight the growing success of the Main Street program around the country. Celebrating its 35th anniversary, Main Street helps fund downtown storefront restoration projects, encouraging state initiatives to preserve historic downtowns and stimulate business growth.

“We love it when [brokers] locate their own business in our downtown,” says Dow. “It keeps them in touch with what’s going on. And we love it even more when they lead by example with appropriate historic preservation treatments for their treasured investment.”

Similarly, Ed McLaughlin and his wife, Jacqueline, both of Beaver, Pa. restored their two-and-a-half-story, late 1800s Victorian building, which has housed their family-owned brokerage, Bovard Anderson Co., for more than 111 years. With $60,000 of company funds and an $18,000 Beaver County Economic Development Block grant, the McLaughlins reconstructed pediments and moldings, repainted the building with historically authentic paints, altered their sign, and redesigned the company logo. The Beaver Area Heritage Foundation honored them with an historic restoration award for their efforts.

“Our project encouraged others to consider restoration rather than demolition, protecting many of the historic structures within the core business district,” McLaughlin says.

Matt Marquard, CEO of M.C. Real Estate in Medina, Ohio, says restorations give small brokers a brand awareness edge and convey the message that real estate office space doesn't have to be traditional or retail.

In 2007, Marquard invested $40,000 of his own funds to restore a two-story brick Italianate home built in 1900. He was able to completely renovate the interior, paint the exterior and fencing, update the landscaping, and repair all stairways and the porch. Marquard moved his company into the former family home and earned a first-place award from the Ohio Association of REALTORS® for Outstanding Exterior Building in 2011.

Real estate professional Brad Posnanski of Menomonee Falls, Wis., restored the 1895 business storefront of his company with a $10,000 local redevelopment grant. He invested an additional $75,000 to construct a new roof, add new windows, install an awning, and paint trim on the former grocery store, which he completed in 2009. 

“Many in the community would say, ‘Wow! You’ve done an awesome job fixing up your place.’ The coolest part is, not even half of them knew I was a REALTOR® or the Brad behind Bradley Realty,” he says. “Now most everyone knows who I am and where I am located.”

Interested in a restoration project? Check with your city to see if there are any local redevelopment grants available. Also, visit the National Main Street programs page to find out what’s offered in your area.


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freelance writer

Mary Beth Klatt is a freelance writer with a passion for architecture and home design.