Historic Hotels: What does it mean to own and manage a hotel listed on the National Register
By John Tess President & CEO, Heritage Consulting Group | October 2008
At first, the notion might be intimidating: Being responsible for properly maintaining a building on the National Register of Historic Places. In this competitive world, isn't it challenging enough just keep the property well-managed to keep the guests and the owners happy? In fact, the maintenance of a historic hotel should not be any more worrisome than any other professionally managed property. It simply requires a bit more for thought.
There are three fundamental areas of concern: The first is legal. As a National Register property, what are my legal obligations? The second relates to obligations created with the use of preservation incentives. Third and final is operational. Does being listed on the National Register create any operational issues?
The first question is that of legal obligations. Does National Register listing add any additional burden on the property manager? When I want to make changes to the building, who do I need to call for approvals? Are there circumstances whereby the National Register designation may be revoked?
It is important up front to note that the National Register of Historic Places, managed by the National Park Service, does not impose any legal restrictions on a property. On the national level, the listing is purely honorific. There is never an occasion when someone from the National Register will come inspect the property. Once a property is listed on the National Register, it is listed permanently. No one periodically reviews the listing for continuation. The only potential for losing National Register designation is if something happens that undermines the basic integrity of the structure: this could be something catastrophic, such as major fire, or a major remodeling gone awry. Bathroom remodels, restaurant updates, these generally have no impact on listing in the National Register.
So, on the national level, there is no added burden and there is slight risk of a National Register listing being revoked. And there is no one to call to examine renovation plans or proposed changes. Again, the National Register listing on the national level is purely honorific.
The local level is something quite different. Many cities and towns-directly or indirectly--use the listing in the National Register as a basis for determining what is and what is not historic in their communities. Here it is important for a property manager to know what the exposure is. Generally, local land use laws for historic resources relate only to design review on the exterior. If you want to replace the windows, repaint the facade, and install a new sign - these initiatives typically require review by the local government. The process and cost depending on the degree of change. If relatively minor, these changes may be reviewed and approved by staff at a nominal fee. If major, or particularly controversial, the proposal likely will go to the Local Landmark Commission to be reviewed at public hearing. Landmark hearings tend to be both time consuming and expensive.