We run a business inside a business, where we navigate a client and its project through the intricate approval process—at the local, state, and federal level—for historic tax credits. Once that approval process is finished, we negotiate on behalf of our clients with investors who will purchase those tax credits, and the result is free equity. The owner can then use this without having to dilute any ownership. We competed with 40 architecture firms on the Pere Marquette Hotel project, and the reason we were chosen is because we’re good at this kind of work—and due to our understanding of the tax credit.
The Pere Marquette Hotel is in Peoria, Illinois, and was built in 1926. It’s going to be a full-service Marriott Hotel, and there’s an alley in the back where we are constructing an elevated and conditioned pedestrian bridge that connects at the front to a 10-story Courtyard [by Marriott hotel] that is also being built. That pedestrian skywalk will then connect to the existing convention center. There’s also a 400-car parking garage being built with 15,000 feet of prime retail space; it’s a $100 million project. The garage and Pere Marquette historic portion are scheduled to be finished in April 2013 while the Courtyard project will be a year later.
The hotel itself requires global renovation; we’re restoring the historic fabric of the building. The most historically significant parts are the four ballrooms, the lobby space, and at the top of the building, there are some historic suites with interior wood cladding. Most notable is the presidential suite, which has a plaque at its entrance recording the VIPs who’ve stayed there—such as Dwight D. Eisenhower and Bob Hope.
The greenest projects that we work on are historic buildings. The Department of the Interior has strict standards for rehabilitation. For example, masonry walls that have been painted—you can’t strip the paint off as it might deface the brick. Our own sustainable practices tend to fall in line with the guidelines, such as the use of low-VOC paints and similar products. These are historic structures that are contemporary [because of] the building products that we’re using to restore them.
We like to take historical artifacts—elements of the old structure—clean them up, and put them in prominent places around a restored building. A lot of it ends up in the Dumpster, but it’s like found art, and it’s part of the character of these buildings—they all have a story to tell.
The Pere Marquette project will act as an impetus for urban revitalization in the city of Peoria. The downtown area has a wealth of these historic buildings, but like many cities, it needs something to jump-start the process of revitalization. It’s similar to the overhaul of the Warehouse District that happened in New Orleans. The convention center has been underserved in terms of rooms, and when the Pere Marquette project is completed, it’s going to create a lot of energy and jobs. Once a project of critical mass happens, you start to see the value of the real estate surrounding it appreciate, and—just connect the rest of those dots. ABQ