Year of Sustainability - March 2019


The National Comedy Center revitalized Jamestown’s abandoned trolley garage and train station. (Credit: National Comedy Center)

Urban Renewal as an Attraction

by Scott Fais

Renovations of existing structures spur economic growth and reduce landfill waste and greenhouse gas emissions

Famed American comedian Lucille Ball may just be the first celebrity to envision an attraction promoting sustainability. Situated in the snowbelt between Lake Erie and the Allegheny National Forest sits Jamestown, New York. While a blanket of snow covers the ground, it’s hard to hide the effects of time on Ball’s hometown.

“This is a town that needs a boost,” says David Ferguson, art director with JRA (Jack Rouse Associates). “Lucille Ball said, ‘Just don’t celebrate me; make Jamestown the destination for the celebration,’” Ferguson explains, adding the new National Comedy Center is the key component of Jamestown’s urban renewal and economic growth. Project designers at JRA incorporated Jamestown’s former trolley garage and train station, where visitors walk under steel arches and a long-silenced crane still suspended from above. 

“When a community loses its historic buildings, spaces, and cultural traditions, it loses itself,” says Douglas Appler, Ph.D., AICP, an assistant professor with the department of historic preservation at the University of Kentucky, who recommends reusing structures with historical significance.

The adaptive use of combining the two preexisting structures into one 37,000-square-foot facility came with mountains of paperwork, since New York’s State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) had to approve the redevelopment. Appler says partnerships with SHPOs may provide financial benefits.

“The SHPO can steer developers toward financial incentives that may be able to pay for between 20 and 40 percent of the rehabilitation cost, depending on local circumstances,” he says.

Skipping demolition also sends less debris to a landfill, requires fewer materials to be trucked in (resulting in fewer greenhouse gas emissions), and sustains a sense of time and place. 

“By finding new uses for historic buildings, developers allow the community to move in new directions without losing the places that give the community its identity for local residents,” Appler says.

Outside the National Comedy Center, a new public park with green space opens up to Jamestown’s Chadakoin River, while an outdoor plaza can host weekend events.

“Build something that has appeal to both residents and visitors,” Appler suggests.

Jamestown is not alone. In California, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of a host of aquariums that were catalysts for waterfront redevelopment in Boston, Baltimore, Tampa, and Chattanooga, among other cities.

“We were able to incorporate the industrial look as well as portions of the fish-packing plant that once occupied our site,” said David Rosenberg, IAAPA chairman and vice president of Monterey Bay Aquarium. “This helps connect our visitors to the rich history of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.”

In Louisville, Kentucky, the Old Forester Distillery moved back into its former brewing space, after vacating the location in 1922. The revitalized 70,000-square-foot distillery places the company back on Louisville’s Whiskey Row following a $45 million renovation.

In Cincinnati, Ohio, Union Terminal, a once-bustling railroad station dating back to 1933, now houses the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal (its art deco façade served as inspiration for DC Comics’ familiar Hall of Justice). Following a two-year renovation and using the tagline “Union Terminal is back and ready to welcome you home,” the space now houses four museums: Duke Energy Children’s Museum, Museum of Natural History & Science, Cincinnati History Museum, and the newly opened Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center (a project also designed by JRA). The latter is symbolic, since Union Terminal received more than 1,000 Holocaust survivors and American soldiers returning from World War II.

Ferguson says the hard work paid off in Jamestown; he’s seen new restaurants and bars open within walking distance of the National Comedy Center.

“After living there for months, it’s really cool to see the growth that has happened,” Ferguson concludes.

Making a difference? Let Funworld Managing Editor Scott Fais know. Contact him at