The Work of Cornerstones

The Work of Cornerstones, Inc.

Something we thought we knew:   Last year, Cornerstones worked with determination and great effort to purchase and save Brown’s Tavern (ca 1803) located in Lookout Valley.  It did not meet any criteria for buildings we usually save since it was residential and outside the footprint of downtown BUT its history spoke to us.  Its history is so significant (second oldest extant property in Hamilton County) that we felt compelled as an organization to try to save it when it was threatened with suburban sprawl and new development.  So, risking our limited revolving fund, we made not one but seven offers on the property to purchase.  We were outbid on the first round and then we negotiated with the “new” owner.  We secured a contract to purchase it; BUT it was contingent upon another contract that Cornerstones had executed with a local preservation architect who was interested in owning the building. We developed a façade easement criterion that was of mutual understanding and benefits that were in accordance with the Secretary of the Interiors Standards.  All was well.  We felt that we had turned around a very complicated situation – into a win-win.  And then, for unforeseen reasons, our local preservation architect could not complete the deal.  

This outcome was not what we had planned.  Cornerstones had a short time to try to find another buyer and we were unsuccessful. So, in the end, Cornerstones did not purchase the tavern.  The truth of the matter is Cornerstones would not have been the appropriate owner.  We, as an organization, do not own property.  We are not a development company.  And we simply could not afford the burden of ownership and renovation of a structure.  However, throughout the lengthy process (and historic preservation is a long drawn out business), we communicated, educated and won over the “new” property owner and help them to understand that this property was architecturally and historically important.  Our efforts resulted in owners that are committed to saving the tavern themselves.  Work is currently underway to correct a structural instability issue – all according to the engineering report that was generated by us.  This is a good outcome – the saving of the 1803 national register property; the preservation of the 2 acres around it preventing new development on the land in the front of it, and the owners stabilizing the tavern in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for rehabilitation.  The property owners have expressed interested in establishing a façade easement and Cornerstones will work with them to take this last and most important step. 

Something we know and will be of benefit:  In 2016, Cornerstones has been working with new downtown property owners researching the possibility of a national register historic district.  Such a designation provides design direction to the exterior of historic buildings which are being adaptively reused from commercial to residential use.  A national register listing also makes the buildings eligible for historic tax credits – a substantial economic tool.  Cornerstones encourages adaptive reuse and we believe that the architectural integrity should be saved because once it is gone, it is lost forever.   This potential district is basically the same as the “Innovation District”, a more common local term.  The Innovation District is referring to Chattanooga’s internet capacity to support young, start up e-commerce businesses.  The really interesting fact here is the juxtaposition of new innovative online business owners/ workers, who want to live, work and play in older spaces.  Chattanooga has these properties and the timing to renovate, reuse and re-envision these buildings is now.

Something we wanted but didn’t expect so soon:   Cornerstones has had a Community Partnership with the UTC, Interior Design Department, since 2012.  We have assisted in the senior thesis course of preparing a historic structure report.   In an unexpected but welcome twist, we have culminated this relationship into a more formal one.  As of this fall, we are pleased to announce the establishment of the Cornerstones Professor in Residence at UTC.  And more pleased to announce that Andrew Smith, local educator, architect and preservationist – will be our first Professor.  This is a huge step forward for Cornerstones – teaching the “where’s” and “what for’s” of preservation and the philosophical reasoning behind saving our past.  We are very excited to formalize this relationship with the university and reach a younger audience with the benefits of historic preservation.

The serendipitous path of work, good intentions, and focus effort – historic preservation is not only a way to revitalize a community but also a way of life.  It is conscious decisions to choice where you live, how you live and what you support.  We hope that you celebrate with us today our successes.  We greatly appreciate your support of WOW and therefore of Cornerstones and our mission “preserving the architectural heritage of Chattanooga”.  Cheers!

Amanda Carmichael