Beaufort historic district attracts guests at fall festival

info@islandpacket.comNovember 5, 2012 

There were many smiling faces at Historic Beaufort Foundation last week as the staff and volunteers welcomed almost 2,000 visitors to the annual Fall Festival of Houses and Gardens. We've got a hunch that there were smiling faces all over town -- at restaurants, hostelries, gas stations and retail shops; at least we hope so, because the crowd came to enjoy what historic Beaufort has to offer.

And if our experience at the foundation was an indicator, they came to spend.

The fall festival is the foundation's chief fundraiser for its preservation efforts -- our hands-on projects, our technical assistance on others' projects and our always-important, but often under-recognized, advocacy role. Those who care about the National Historic Landmark District and other historic sites know that we endeavor to keep our eye on the prize -- the protection of Beaufort's historic resources.

One high-end restaurateur was heard to say that fall tour guests contribute reliably to his bottom line, that it's one of a handful of Beaufort events that predictably packs his eatery. We trust other business find that to be true also. Certainly anecdotal evidence from our guests confirms that they are eating out, shopping and staying in bed and breakfasts, hotels and motels and dollars are changing hands.

Some years ago, an analysis was conducted of "The Economic Benefits of Historic Preservation in South Carolina" that revealed what the report called an "incredible economic impact." While the economy has changed since that study was done, continued national and international recognition of South Carolina's historic sites (CondeNast readers just named Charleston the world's top tourist town) suggests historic sites are a major reason why people travel to the state and within the state.

The study resulted in five major conclusions:

Historic preservation creates jobs -- in construction, architectural services and related activities.

Historic preservation increases property values because properties within locally designated historic districts are, in general, worth more, appreciate faster, and retain more of their value than those located outside districts.

Historic preservation is the vehicle for heritage tourism. When the study was conducted, it was found heritage tourism results in $325.6 million annually in direct spending in South Carolina, directly creating thousands of jobs.

Historic preservation has spurred downtown revitalization, also creating jobs and businesses and rehabilitating buildings.

Historic preservation is an economic force adding to spending and increasing labor earnings.

"Beaufort sells itself," festival coordinator Isabella Reeves has repeatedly said in response to the many exuberant tour ticket holders who effuse about the homes, gardens and other historic structures on the tour. What she means is that our inventory of restored and maintained structures is what brings visitors like those who came last weekend, and as long as the community recognizes that protection of historic structures benefits Beaufort's economy, visitors will continue to come and spend. The foundation's role is to be the instrument of support for property owners and developers who want to maintain and add to that inventory. There's still more to be done.

Maxine Lutz is the interim executive director of Historic Beaufort Foundation.

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