Assembling a Cause to Save a Building from Demolition (Part 2 of 2)

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morning light washes across the black-and-white striped awning of street-corner restaurant in Richmond’s gritty but recovering Shockoe Bottom neighborhood

   The top-down part of saving a building by making it make financial sense to a developer is the hard work, but building a bottom-up cause that creates a market for that building can actually be a lot of fun. The first creates supply; the second builds demand. I've covered the know-why and the know-how of most of these techniques in great detail in New Media for Designers + Builders, which I believe you'll find helpful.

street light poles flank fruit & produce shop front at street corner in Richmond’s recovering Shockoe Bottom neighborhood

   The most important point of building a cause aimed at saving a building today is to turn neighbors into advocates for the businesses that may soon occupy that building. People may like the idea of historic preservation in theory, but they love the idea of a coffee shop just down the block. They'll nod their heads in agreement if you talk about saving our architectural heritage, but they'll get out and ring doorbells to stir up conversations with their neighbors if you're talking about bringing in businesses that will make their lives easier and more interesting… especially if they can just walk around the corner to those businesses rather than having to get in their cars and drive somewhere. You don't just want people to agree with you; you want them to go out and change things. Here are the objectives of building a cause, and the tools for getting it done:

Illustrate Demand

railroad trestle frames “Welcome to Shockoe Bottom” sign on painted side wall of Main Street building

   Nothing helps sway a potential shopkeeper's decision to open a store like a groundswell of future customers. You need to find ways for the neighbors to show what they want and how many of them want it. Look at the storefronts below the "Welcome to Shock" sign. OK, that's actually the "Welcome to Shockoe Bottom" sign, but in any case, the signs and the storefronts below are all painted on the flat side wall of a building facing the parking lot. One cool way to illustrate demand is to paint the storefronts on the building, then paint the glass of the storefronts with chalkboard paint. At the top of each "window" paint "Here's what I'd like to see here:" and then paint blank lines below, and leave a lot of chalk. People will tell you what they want. In the case of the Tennessee Brewery we just talked about, the architecture is there already and doesn't need to be painted. Just paint on the boarded-up windows and storefronts… that's all the people will need.

Create Community

man bundled against the New Year’s Eve cold strides alongside River City Diner storefront windows in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom neighborhood, just across from the depot market

   People are more likely to talk about the businesses they'd like to see in the building you're saving if you get them together in the same place. And when you do, they'll think of other ways of supporting the cause that we can't even conceive of right now. Some part of the building or its outdoor space should likely serve as a physical gathering place for the community you're creating… someday. But you need to create the community now, and the easiest and quickest ways to do that are online. Advocates for the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood in Cincinnati are doing an excellent job of building community not just for one building, but for their entire historic district. You should study them. They use many of the tools that follow… and you should consider using several of them as well. People that are on Twitter don't necessarily spend a lot of time on Facebook and vice versa, for example. So cover your bases by using several (or all) of these tools:


   Open your Twitter account today. Allow your most passionate advocates to post there. And encourage others to open similar Twitter streams as well, or to tweet about the building on their existing streams. Here's one of several that support Over-the-Rhine, for example.

water tank and smokestack sprout in crisp winter morning light above the rooftops of brick loft buildings in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom

Facebook Group

   Start a Facebook group next. It's a great way to get a group of neighbors talking and working together quickly. Be sure to post links to all the stuff below as you start generating content on your other nodes.


   Instagram is the most social image site… by far. So open an account for the building and start posting beautiful images of the building, even if it's in a dilapidated state… that can be romantic. And whenever you're around places that have been restored and repurposed, shoot them and say "here's what we could have at the Tennessee Brewery" or whatever.

cafe corner window awash in morning light slipping in under striped canvas awning at the corner of a Shockoe Bottom street in Richmond


   Start a YouTube channel for the building. If you're lucky, there may already be great stuff up on YouTube like this excellent segment on the Tennessee Brewery. You can easily link to existing videos, and then do some of your own as well. It doesn't have to be nearly as professional as this video, but it does need passion… which comes in many flavors.


   Any serious effort to save something good really should have a blog, which is the keystone of most New Media ecosystems. Let several of your most passionate advocates blog there. You don't have to start with the blog, but consider adding it soon. The Alton Road blog is a great example.


   Expand your blog with supporting pages. I'd strongly suggest pages for three groups: developers interested in buying the building, business owners interested in locating there, and customers or clients interested in doing business there. Consider these your "matchmaker pages"… or "online dating for historic buildings."

Bottoms Up bar & grille tucks its brick walls between highway on-ramp and steel railway trestle along Shockoe Bottom in Richmond

Idea Cards

   Once the idea picks up steam and someone offers to spend a little money to support it, consider printing Idea Cards that tell people in a few words why you're so passionate about the building and then direct them to other parts of your New Media ecosystem.

Life After the Building is Saved

   If you save the building, you probably won't just close up most of these New Media assets. Instead, you'll likely find that they have become digital cornerstones of a community of people that are now neighbors, not just co-habitators of a certain part of town. Because of this, many of these things may live on for years, doing cool stuff for you and your neighbors that you can't even anticipate today.

cover of New Media for Designers + Builders by Stephen A. Mouzon, foreword by Amanda Walter

   Here's the link to the book I mentioned earlier. It describes how to do all of these things in detail, assuming that you're starting as a complete beginner. And it does some other cool stuff as well, like putting ⅔ of the content on the web so that the only stuff in the book is what everyone needs and you don't have to slog through a lot of stuff you don't need. But this post isn't primarily about selling books… it's about saving buildings. So get out there and get started today!

   What do you think? What have I missed? What other great strategies and techniques have you heard of that I haven't included here?

   ~Steve Mouzon

Legacy Comments

Steve Mouzon · Board Member at Sky Institute for the Future

Here's the second post on how to save an historic building from demolition… the first post was about the supply side: getting a developer to repurpose the building. This one's about the creating demand for the businesses that will occupy the building. What do you think? What techniques am I missing? What tactics have you heard of that you really like?

Jan 9, 2014 12:07pm

Nancy Deal · Works at Retired


Jan 9, 2014 12:18pm

Perry Sponseller · Memphis, Tennessee

Fantastic. Will get started with ideas and get back to you. Thanks again. Will get the book to get inspiration and ideas to grow more ideas.

 Jan 9, 2014 1:12pm


© Stephen A. Mouzon 2018