Getting Real about Real Estate

Posted on: July 22nd, 2013 by Special Contributor

By: Will O'Keefe

The Preservation Alliance of Minnesota (PAM) has spent the better part of three years working to build a real estate program. Like any effort, we’ve had some successes and some setbacks, but through mentoring and some additional training through the Historic Real Estate Finance Training Program, we get closer every day.

In 2011, made possible by a grant from the National Trust’s Peter H. Brink Leadership Fund, PAM brought Myrick Howard from Preservation North Carolina to do some mentoring with staff and our board about the possibilities of achieving preservation goals through direct involvement in real estate. The following year, we completed a feasibility study exploring the timing, tools, and the market for our involvement in real estate. Initially we developed a business plan built around a couple of major grants for start-up funding. When those grants were denied, this setback encouraged us to look at new ways to fund the initiative and jump start the program.

That is where the Historic Real Estate Finance Training, made possible by the 1772 Foundation and the National Trust, came into play. I had the good fortune to attend both weeks of the training, the first held in Salem, MA and the other in Knoxville, TN. The training, led by the National Development Council, included, “Part One: Development Finance” and “Part Two: Problem Solving and Deal Structuring”. I was joined by roughly 30 other participants involved in real estate focused preservation work.

The training is already transforming how we think about real estate at PAM.  In the first week of training, we focused on the development process, the numbers behind each development and how deals are structured. I believe that this has helped us to connect with developers around the state on equal footing. During the second week we applied our new found knowledge of real estate principles to real world projects. The focus on direct application got us thinking more about how deals are structured and problem solving and how we can be more effective voices in the effort to redevelop our important historic resources.

As important as the education component was, the opportunity for information sharing and discussion between the participants was a bonus. I learned so much from others in the room, including how their programs started, the pitfalls they’ve encountered and the things that have worked most well for them. This information has been invaluable as we determine the next step for our real estate program. We’re hoping that at the start of 2014, we will be able to officially launch our program and add tools in phases as we progress. We’re also working closely with a couple of neighborhoods in Minneapolis and aligned nonprofits to forge a partnership to stabilize homeownership and rehabilitate the housing stock in the community. Over time, we hope to roll out a real estate listing service, educational offerings, and begin using purchase options. I firmly believe that the additional experience has already made a difference and will continue to as we expand our offerings.

Looking for one more reason to attend the National Preservation Conference this fall in Indianapolis?  The 1772 Foundation is sponsoring a Learning Lab on Historic Real Estate Intervention. Here is the full list of Real Estate focused sessions this fall:


  • Conversation Starter: Preservationists Get Real about Real Estate
  • Getting Started: Property Intervention A-Z
  • Historic Real Estate Finance: A National Development Council Perspective
  • Seeing Redevelopment Through A Different Lens
  • Alternative Funding for Adaptive Use Projects

Learn more about the sessions at Register today to lock in the lowest rates.

Will O’Keefe is the Communication & Programs Coordinator for the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota and is actively involved in building a real estate program there.

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