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Unique Ways to Preserve, and Use, Historic Buildings: Free Rent?

AEC professionals are part of a larger ecosystem that includes commercial realtors as well as the broader business community.  In an effort to see where our projects (and revenues) might be 1 or 2 years from now, it is wise to be on the lookout for out-of-the-box business solutions.

For out-of-the-box, how about this: Free rent.

That’s right, free rent for 3 years to an incoming tenant.  Certainly not common, especially not in a booming market like Greater Boston from 2013-2019.  But, we are not at that place anymore.   The commercial real estate ramifications due to COVID-19 have been well documented, even in hot spots like Boston and Cambridge.

But these issues go much further than Greater Boston.  In small towns, up into New Hampshire and elsewhere, landlords are having trouble and tenants/ business owners have been having some tough times.  This is often even more so regarding non-profit organizations.  Most of their revenue is via private or corporate donations- which have drastically reduced in 2020.

This brings me to a tiny (population 2856) town of Tamworth, New Hampshire, and the Union Hall Association.    The nonprofit association has owned and maintained the Union Hall since 1894.  The Hall was most likely built in the mid-1800s, and it has been used for a variety of civic and community events.

However, adequately maintaining the property and paying all utilities and incidentals has proven difficult- especially as the years roll along and this 2-story wood-framed building ages further.

With that background, the Association has recently broadcast that they are willing to consider a new tenant to use the Hall’s first floor- at $0/month rent, for the first 3 years.  They are seeking an entrepreneur who will work with them and will appreciate the building and its high-visibility location on Route 25.

In lieu of typical rent payments, the new tenant will need to pay for/ provide for the following:

Utilities, insurance on the building; costs inherent in renovating the space for business needs; heat expenses for the first floor and bathroom, including those expenses incurred to update the first-floor heating system; general upkeep and maintenance to the exterior of the building, such as it is relevant to business needs (esp. maintaining safe and legal access and egress). 

The second floor will remain empty and for the exclusive use of the Association and/or its designees.

The potential tenant will also need to assist the Association with any grant applications that are sought after for funding which can further assist the viability of the historic property in town.

Is this a potential win-win scenario?  It quite possibly is.

If no tenant is there and ongoing donations are not sufficient to upkeep the property, it is possible that in a matter of years (?) the building could be in a state of disrepair that it could be condemned and may need to be demolished.  Nobody wants that, but the reality is that for many people, and companies, times are pretty tough right now.

And how would this help members of the AEC community?  Clearly, this would not be a large project, but should a new tenant (and building use) come into play, the following service providers would likely be needed:

  • Real estate attorney
  • Real estate agent/ broker
  • Architect
  • General contractor and/or carpenter
  • Electrician
  • Plumbing & Heating contractor
  • Fire Protection/ Sprinkler contractor
  • Painting contractor
  • Commercial Furnishings and/or Equipment Providers
  • Landscape/ Hardscape contractor
  • Flooring contractor
  • Roofing contractor
  • Insulation contractor

As mentioned, for any of these service providers above, this would likely be a very small project.  However, 2021 could be a slow year of new business for some of these contractors/ service providers.  During some months and some quarters “staying busy” can be the best one can hope for.

If you are in business development be on the lookout for (possibly small) opportunities like said project reviewed above.  2021, especially the first half of it, may prove to be a trying period.  We all need to stay creative, stay active, continue to work hard and be ready and hopeful for the eventual turn-around that many are seeking.  And if a historic building with years of bringing the community together can stay relevant and stay open, that is all the better.

(For more information on the specific property in Tamworth, please email the UHA at: 


Ken is a Director of Industry Development and Technical Services at the International Masonry Institute. Some of his writings have been featured in ARCHITECT magazine,, and for U.S. Building News. He can be reached at

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