Years from now, Easton residents enjoying a vibrant downtown may not know that they have the historic Ames Shovel Shop CPA project to thank for their beautiful town center. But that's a fact Selectwoman Colleen Corona won't soon forget, considering that the town's investment of CPA funds in the historic preservation and community housing portions of the development led to many other improvements downtown. "We've leveraged CPA money not only for historic preservation and affordable housing but also wastewater infrastructure and downtown revitalization," she said, referencing the $7 million dollar contribution from Easton's local CPA fund. After a recent groundbreaking, work has begun to transform the historic complex into 113 new housing units, 30 of which are below market rate.
The Ames Shovel Shop is a keystone of Easton history. Listed as one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2009, the Shovel Shop dates back to 1852. According to the National Trust, "the iron-bladed shovels fabricated here by generations of the Ames family literally built America. They were critical elements of the California Gold Rush, the Civil War and the building of the Transcontinental Railroad." But in recent years, the Shovel Shop, like so many historic structures, was threatened with destruction. A developer bought up the property, which had been in use as office space, and proposed a 200-unit housing development. The project did not seek to preserve the historic character of the buildings.
The community rallied support to preserve the complex, organizing a friend's group run by members of the Ames family. A new developer was brought in, Beacon Communities, who pledged to respect the historic nature of the complex while downsizing the number of units. With fewer units, the group knew that they would need additional funds to make the project viable. Easton's CPA fund was the saving grace; with an outright grant of $3 million for the historic preservation restriction, and a loan of $4 million, CPA allowed the project to move forward.
With construction well underway, the Shovel Shop project has spurred other projects in the downtown area, including sewering Easton's main street. Because of the decreased count of Shovel Shop units, the additional capacity of the originally planned waste water treatment plant will provide waste water treatment for the downtown. This sewering attracted restaurants, which were unable to operate with septic systems.
Seizing the opportunity to create a beautiful downtown, the town applied for and was granted a $1 million "Street Scapes" grant, which will be used to bury electrical wires and bring historic period lighting to brighten the walkways. The Trustees of Reservations purchase of the adjacent 30-acre Governer Ames Estate, also a CPA project, made the revitalization not only business-friendly, but also created a town center that celebrates what makes Easton, Easton.
The Easton Shovel Shop is a sterling example of how to leverage CPA funds. In the traditional sense, the CPA investment attracted additional grants from the state and local level. But perhaps more importantly was how Easton officials and volunteers saw the Shovel Shop project as a springboard to create a livable, beautiful downtown. And best of all? That $4 million loan that started it all will be paid back to the CPA fund - with interest. And just in time for the next big project.