August 20, 2015

Shared Use in Action at Cooper-Molera Adobe

One key component in the National Trust’s vision for its historic sites is that they are places where we can develop and implement new models for preservation. As we work to realize this vision and, in doing so, to ensure that our sites are both culturally and financially sustainable for the long term, we’ve begun to explore the concept of “shared use” at our sites. So, what does “shared use” mean at the National Trust?

We see shared use as a prototype for the re-imagination of historic sites, house museums, and other historic properties to provide expansive and sustainable public benefit by bringing new uses—both for-profit and nonprofit—to a historic property in ways that engage and expand audiences for public interpretation and appreciation. Shared use demonstrates that dynamic interpretation of a place’s history can be creatively integrated with other compatible nonprofit and commercial uses in ways that are resonant with the property’s history. At a shared use site, preservation and interpretation of a site’s history are infused into all operations, and broad audiences are engaged with diverse stories told through a variety of methods, media, and experiences.

Exterior angle of house

photo by: Carol Highsmith

Exterior view of Cooper Molera.

Shared use strengthens the financial self-sufficiency of historic properties by attracting investment to capital projects, enhancing existing income-generating activities, and creating new sources of revenue. Shared use is supported by collaborative governance with strong ties to the surrounding community, and it models a range of innovative options for preservation and interpretation. Not only does it encourage the adaptive use of historic buildings and landscapes, but it also creates opportunities for new programming, ranging from the performing and visual arts, to sustainable agriculture, to culinary traditions.

The term “shared use” was coined by Doug Wiele, the founder and president of Foothill Partners. We have been working with Foothill Partners for more than three years to re-imagine the Cooper-Molera Adobe, our 2.5-acre site in Monterey, California, which has been managed by California State Parks since the early 1970s. With the agreement with California State Parks to operate Cooper-Molera ending in 2016, the site emerged as a perfect place for us to explore new operating models, and Foothill Partners has been a key partner in this work, along with California State Parks, the Monterey State Historic Park Association, and the Alliance of Monterey Area Preservationists.

During a meeting with all of these stakeholders in Monterey in fall 2014, we discussed what it would look like if we continued to have museum functions on the property, specifically in the two historic adobe residences, but we returned commercial activity to the site in other buildings, some of which were originally built for commercial uses, such as an adobe retail building and adobe warehouse from the late 19th century. As we began to imagine different uses on the property, including a restaurant in the adobe warehouse and an event center in the spectacular redwood barns, we started to discuss how all of the users would share gardens and other areas between the buildings.

Exterior view of the Cooper-Molera Barns.

photo by: Cooper-Molera Adobe

Barn at Cooper-Molera Adobe.

Shared Use Versus Mixed Use

We had begun using the term “mixed use” in this discussion, but Wiele cautioned us against getting attached to a term that already had a very specific meaning in the development world. He suggested that what we were talking about, particularly as we discussed how the uses would function simultaneously, was really “shared use.” This idea goes beyond “mixed use,” the typical zoning/planning term for a variety of uses at a particular site. In the case of shared uses, collaboration is at the heart of it, and both historic interpretation and other for-profit and nonprofit uses invite and involve public engagement. Shared use, we also came to see, is different from the typical accessory uses (gift shops, food service, special events) that many nonprofit historic sites rely on to supplement income and services. In the case of shared use, the use is not accessory, but rather another prime use of the property to engage the public, and it is fully integrated and coordinated with the educational and interpretive mission.

As we developed the financial modeling for Cooper-Molera, a working group drawn from our board of trustees, suggested that we think of shared use as not only a prototype, but also a pattern of approach that is applicable to all sorts of different historic properties. We are also using this process at two other National Trust Historic Sites that are very different from Cooper-Molera in size, location, history, and the types of buildings, landscapes, and stories we seek to preserve and enliven. At Woodlawn, a 126-acre site, which is an oasis in the heavily developed Route 1 corridor outside of Washington, D.C., we are exploring possible shared use options that reflect the site’s historic connection between sustainable agriculture and social justice and are doing so in partnership with another nonprofit, the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture. And at Lyndhurst, our 67-acre historic site on the Hudson River with 14 different buildings, shared use means determining how several different uses would be compatible and generate sufficient income (or avoid significant capital costs) to support museum functions within the property’s highly significant Gothic Revival mansion, which contains an important collection of fine and decorative arts. But applying this model to a specific site raises the following questions that need to be addressed:

  1. Is the status quo culturally and financially sustainable?
  2. What does the site need? Early in the process, it is important to assess buildings and infrastructure, deferred maintenance costs, cyclical maintenance costs, and operational costs.
  3. Who are your primary stakeholders and what is their tolerance for change? Are there other examples of shared use in your community? What can you learn from them?
  4. What types of other uses on the site would be compatible? What does the history of the site tell you what it might want to be? In the case of Cooper-Molera, the site’s past was imbued with commercial and hospitality uses, and those uses today align perfectly with a sustainable future.
  5. Who are your potential for-profit partners? Who are you already working with? Whose work do you admire? Are there other nonprofit or institutional partners that you want to engage?
  6. What existing programs at the site are valued by the community and effectively interpret the site’s history? How can they be compatible with new uses?
  7. What stories aren’t being told about the site’s history or could be told better? What new facilities are needed to strengthen interpretation of the site’s history? How can digital tools play a role in interpretation? What are the possibilities for “accidental interpretation” for people who visit the site for other uses, such as eating in a restaurant or shopping?
  8. What principles should guide shared use at your site? This is a key step in the shared use process, and at Cooper-Molera we worked closely with local stakeholders from California State Parks, the Monterey State Historic Park, the Alliance of Monterey Area Preservationists to create and the define the principles to guide our work.
  9. What are the required approvals and entitlements and what is required for these approvals? Required approvals might include utilities, planning and zoning approvals, SHPO, easement holders.
  10. How will you pay for pre-development costs?
  11. Whose buy-in is necessary, even if it is not required?
  12. How do you approach and engage stakeholders?
  13. Will these shared uses really generate the amount of income needed to sustain the site? Taking an initial pass at the financial model will be sobering, but you will need an idea of what you can earn and/or what capital costs you would like to have eliminated by the partnership. The model isn’t complete until it includes both what you can earn and your operational costs.
  14. What market research is required to prove your assumptions?
  15. How do you start to make the project real?

In two upcoming blog posts, we will look in greater detail at two important ways in which shared use at Cooper-Molera moved from concept to implementation—what is required to effectively steward the collections of fine arts and decorative arts and how the process of pre-construction design and archaeology was conducted. We will also be doing a session, along with Doug Wiele, at this year’s AASLH conference in Louisville about shared use at Cooper-Molera.

Preservation is such a powerful force when it engages people in a discussion about what a place can be, instead of only what it cannot be. In many ways, shared use is about listening—listening to what a historic place has already been and what it needs to survive, and listening to partners and the broader community about what they need. But it is also about taking what you hear and challenging assumptions about how we use historic sites, how we engage the public with them in meaningful ways, and how we sustain them for the long term in ways that are both dynamic and respectful. This combination of active listening and taking action is a hallmark of many successful preservation projects and shared use combines those in a way that expands the possibilities for historic properties.

Katherine Malone-France

Katherine Malone-France was the National Trust's Chief Preservation Officer.

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