Not even the richest of countries has sufficient public sector financial resources to own, rehabilitate, and maintain all the heritage buildings worthy of preservation. While in many countries the non-for-profit sector has developed expertise in education and advocacy, rarely do these organizations possess the capital or the development expertise to undertake the rehabilitation of heritage buildings. As a result, the private sector often plays a leading role in redevelopment and ongoing stewardship of historic buildings if they are to be kept in active use.
Public-private partnerships (PPPs) have offered a promising new approach to financing, developing, operating, and maintaining historic buildings. PPPs have been used for a wide range of purposes. Notional rents of publically-owned heritage buildings by third-sector organizations who manage them as museums or publically accessible heritage properties, are common in many places. At the other end of the scale, complex urban regeneration projects involving various levels of government, as well as private and other non-governmental partners constitute a large number of PPPs for heritage conservation.
Most heritage PPPs, especially those within more developed economies, are “white elephant” buildings—those difficult to reuse properties for which the private sector, by itself, rarely takes the lead. Heritage PPPs usually involve finding creative new uses for an existing structure, known as “adaptive reuse”, turning long underutilized structures into museums, community centers, or converting them for commercial use. In some cases, heritage PPPs turn previously defunct or abandoned historic buildings into hotels, as seen with Spain’s Paradores, or “castle-hotels”, which have transformed heritage sites into luxury accommodations.
In many heritage PPPs, non-governmental organizations also play a prominent role in the success of the project. Often referred to as the “third sector”, local residents may also be represented in this group, which serves to represent the social interests within the community.