Stephen McNair with McNair Historic Preservation

Stephen McNair with McNair Historic Preservation

In this episode, we're joined by a rare breed of business owner. Our guest, Stephen McNair knew he wanted to work around historic buildings from a very early age. Mobile has seen a renewed interest in renovating some of our older buildings downtown, a large portion is due to the renewed federal historic tax credits. Stephen's company, McNair Historic Preservation, helps companies across the US navigate the process of receiving those tax credits by maintaining the unique charm of a building while it is renovated to provide more jobs. Tune in to hear the great insights Stephen has during our conversation.


Stephen: My name is Stephen McNair. I'm the owner and senior consultant of McNair Historic Preservation, based in Mobile. We've been in business a little over two years, and we are a national full service historic preservation consulting firm, with clients as far away as Massachusetts, all the way to New Orleans.

Marcus: Awesome, Stephen. It's really great to have you on the podcast. I'm glad that we were able to connect, and get this set up.

Stephen: Thank you very much.

Marcus: Yeah. So, you've listened to the podcast before. The very first thing we like to get into is, to kind of understand a little bit about who you are, where you came from. You know, some of your background. So, why don't you kind of give us some background about yourself, and are you from Mobile? Give us some backstory.

Stephen: So, I am from Mobile. Grew up in midtown, went to Murphy High School, and first understood what historic preservation was, at an early age, by being a member of the Junior Historic Society at Murphy. And, that led to some internships with John Sledge and Devereaux Bemis, with the Mobile Historic Development Commission. And from there, really understood, at an early age, where I wanted to go, and what I wanted to do.
So, after graduating from Murphy, went to The University of Alabama, received a degree in history. From there, went to Tulane University in New Orleans, and received a masters in historic preservation architecture. And then, from there, stayed in New Orleans, worked for a number of years for the local government. And then, went to University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and actually received a Ph.D. in architectural history. And from there, came back to Alabama.

Marcus: Wow. I mean, that's a lot of education. And that is ... I mean, that is kind of a whirlwind of ... I mean, that's a lot of different experiences. Right? So, I would imagine ... Let's go back to high school, when the fact that you knew, from a very early age, what it was that you were passionate about. I mean, you understand that, that's not a normal ...
I mean, the podcast we just recorded was with somebody who wanted to go into physical fitness. And, I think something along those lines, if you had that aptitude, sometimes that makes sense. But, historic preservation, and studying architecture, was that something ... Key point, where you were like, "That's it. That's what I wanna do." How did you get started on that path?

Stephen: I wouldn't say there was a key moment. I think, growing up in the context of a historic home, in midtown, and attending a historic high school ... I think, when you combine all those things with a natural interest in American history ... And, Southern history, the built environment is what I find the most interesting, as far as the Southern culture, Southern history, and Southern context. And so, once I identified that as being a possibility for a career ...
I didn't really understood what kind of career. I just knew that I wanted to be involved with old buildings in some capacity. And so, that's where the relationship started, with people like John Sledge, who introduced the concept that it was possible to make a living preserving, and protecting, and promoting historic architecture.

Marcus: That's really cool. And so, the studies. What took you to Scotland? Was it really just pursuing the Ph.D., or was it the adventure, and the architecture, and being able to study in that location? Or, what?

Stephen: It was really, it was all the above. But, it also had to do with the fact that my wife, Lila, who's a CPA, at the time, was working for Ernst & Young, which is a global accounting firm. And so, they were very generous, in terms of transferring us, and handling the visas. But, the reason we chose Edinburgh, specifically, not London, or any other city, was that my interest for my Ph.D. was on ecclesiology. And, that is the study of the relationship between religion and architecture.

Marcus: Right.

Stephen: And, my advisor at the university, was and is, one of the eminent scholars on this subject, globally, in terms of British colonial ecclesiology, and that's what I wanted to focus on.

Marcus: So, I would imagine you spent a lot of time in cathedrals, and some of the religious buildings of Scotland, and the U.K.

Stephen: Absolutely. Not only, teaching ... [crosstalk 00:04:19]

Marcus: I can't imagine. I mean, that must just be amazing, to ...

Stephen: And, my wife and I have an agreement, where if we go on vacations, I only get a certain amount of time in the churches. But, I still have to go see what we have.

Marcus: And, mine is, I'm not allowed to go into Apple stores anymore. So, I can see the two divergent paths, here. So, I grew up in D.C., listeners of the podcast know that. When I graduated from James Madison, my father and my stepmom lived in north west D.C., which was, like, a block and a half away from the cathedral. And, at night, I would used to just, like, I'd go for a run, or something like that. But, I would always make it a point to go by the cathedral, because I've just been so impressed with the architecture.
And, I will admit that, while I've been to the Netherlands, and I've been to South America, and some other places. I've not made it to ... Well, Netherlands is in Europe. But, I've not been to the U.K., Scotland, London, any of these places, where some of that architecture is. But, I've always wanted to go, 'cause I'm just fascinated by it, too. Not fascinated to the point where I'm gonna spend my life studying it, but fascinated that I have a great appreciation for the effort that these people put into these buildings, with almost none of the tools that we would, in modern day, expect for that kind of construction.

Stephen: You're exactly right. And, that's why even today, in Mobile, some of the best masons, and carpenters, are actually from the U.K., because they have a tradition of working with their hands in a country where you'll have a church from the 15 or 16 hundreds.

Marcus: That's it.

Stephen: Right. And so, they know how to take care of those kind of materials. And, it's a different kind of culture, where you build with purpose, instead of building with a temporary mindset.

Marcus: Right. No, I remember growing up, and seeing the cathedral built, and just understanding, even with all the modern technology and stuff like that, that there was ... I mean, there was a greater purpose in putting that together, then just showing what man can do with cool building blocks. Right? But, I can't imagine. That's really interesting. So, why don't you tell us a little bit about what is going on, here in Mobile? It seems like there's, kind of, a revitalization of downtown, and of midtown, and stuff like that. What are some of the cool things that you're a part of, that are happening down here?

Stephen: I'd say, for the first time in a generation, there is a tremendous push for people to move back downtown, for businesses to relocate, young couples moving to midtown. And, it's great to see that. Because, for so many years, the shift was west. It was ... [crosstalk 00:07:02] And now, the children of the generation that move west, are moving directly east. And so, the trick is, catching them before they go too far east, to eastern shore, and finding a place for them to live, and work, in midtown, and downtown, which is really the heart of Mobile.
And, so many projects that I never thought would ever happen, are in the process of going through rehabilitation. Primarily, because of the great job that organizations, like the Downtown Alliance have been doing, [Cart?: 00:07:33] Blackwell, with the Mobile Historic Development Commission. But also, the economics are starting to line up in a way that makes sense, because of state historic preservation tax credits, which can also be used in conjunction with federal historic tax credits.

Marcus: Which, recently were just voted upon, and reinstated. Correct?

Stephen: That's exactly right. It was just renewed for five more years. It was signed by the Governor last week.

Marcus: I know it's not really the topic of the podcast, but why don't you just, kind of, tell people what those tax credits allow for, in a very short way. Because, they might not be aware, and it may make a difference. Somebody listening to this, they may decide to take advantage of those.

Stephen: These particular tax credits are for offsetting your liability for income tax. So, for instance, the federal program is a 20 percent return, and the state program is a 25 percent return. So, for instance, for every 100 dollars you spend, not on the purchase, but of the rehabilitation of a building, 45 cents would then come back to you, in the form of an income tax credit. And, not a deduction. This is a credit, meaning it's a dollar-for-dollar return. So, all of a sudden, 45 percent of every dollar comes back to you, in the form of these credits, which makes the economics possible, and feasible, for extremely expensive rehabilitation projects.

Marcus: So, I was recently over at Rogers & Willard, talking with Mike. And, walked outside, and pointed out all the different projects that are happening on St. Bayou Street. And, it was the innovation protal, and the three or four million dollars that they're investing on rehabilitating their building, and it was the engineering firm that's moving in next door to them, and the two million dollars that they're spending on their building. And, I don't know how much they've spent on rehabilitating the Buick Building, but it is just a work of art when you walk inside that place.
So, it's not just Lower Dauphin Street, Royal Street. I mean, now all the side streets, even, are going through this, kind of, reinvigoration, if you will. Even behind the building that we're currently in, like a block over, there was this old, I guess, diner, or sandwich shop, or something along those lines. And, I walked by the other day, and that one's being repainted, and revitalized. They're, obviously, investing a lot of money in that building, as well. So, I mean, I guess people are taking advantage of these tax credits, as a way of doing these reinvestments.

Stephen: You're exactly right. Every project you just mentioned, is a state and federal historic tax credit project. The property that used to have the restaurants, St. Francis Street, that's the Temple Lodge.

Marcus: Yeah.

Stephen: And, we've actually been hired as consultants to work on that project. It's gonna be apartments, while still maintaining the original African American masonic ritual room. And then, the ground floor, where the restaurant was, is gonna be redeveloped as commercial space. St. Louis Street, you're exactly right. That corridor, the entire corridor, is exploding. And, part of that has to do with the infrastructure that exists prior to the rehabilitation of these projects. High speed internet capabilities.
But, also, it was available. There's plenty of parking, with all the buildings over there. Kind of has more of a suburban feel, in terms of traffic patterns, and that it's a direct shot with no traffic lights, all the way down the corridor, which allows for greater access, especially with the new federal courthouse coming in at the foot of St. Louis Street. But, you're exactly right. You have the Dodge building, it's about halfway through the rehabilitation process. And, that's gonna house the offices of precision engineering.

Marcus: That's the one I was thinking of. Yeah.

Stephen: Where they're gonna relocate from south Mobile County. Next to them is the innovation portal. A little further west on St. Louis Street, the old Nash Automotive building. That is going to be Old Mobile Antiques. We're assisting with that project. They're gonna relocate from the belt line. Across the street from them, you have Valor Lighting, just opened a historic building. And, there's a few other projects, residential projects that are gonna be starting on St. Louis Street, in the next 12 months, as well.

Marcus: Interesting. Yeah. I mean, we're in a mixed use building, so we get it. So, the first floor, the front of the building, there're three units, and those are all commercial. But, everything else in here is residential. And, you know, it's kind of interesting. 'Cause, I know that these buildings were ... Well, this building wasn't. This building used to be a department store. But, a lot of these buildings used to be store front on the bottom, apartment of the store front owner above. So, it's interesting to see them, kind of, go back to that, where they're revitalizing the downstairs for commercial, but utilizing the rest of the space, and breaking it up into smaller apartments, or residential space.

Stephen: Maintaining my character, that's really where the local historic preservation guidelines come in, at the local level, with the MHDC. And also, where the federal guidelines kick in, with the tax credits. The entire purpose of this program is to put commerce into action. It's a job's program, at the end of the day, because it has to be an income producing property that is being rehabilitated. But, it also must meet certain architectural criteria, and preservation criteria. So, it's a nice balance between maintaining the original character of a property, while making it contemporary, in terms of use and function.

Marcus: Interesting. So, what is ... Look into your crystal ball. I mean, what is downtown Mobile look like in 5 years?

Stephen: I think we're gonna see a major change, in terms of residential units. Right now, Mobile has less than 500 residential units in the entire downtown. There are close to 300 residential units in the pipeline, right now, for the next 12 months. A lot of that is gonna be part of the Merchants' National Bank building.

Marcus: Well, there's that, and then, on Royal Street. Is it St. Francis and Royal? The corner there, where they're doing the mixed use, as well. I don't remember the name of that building.

Stephen: That's the Staples [inaudible 00:13:43] building.

Marcus: Right. So, there's that.

Stephen: And then, there's the Gayfers department store. That plan is being put together for rehabilitation of nothing but residential. But, the tower on the Merchants' National Bank building, right now, is commercial, and has been ever since it was constructed in the 1920s. That is going to be converted to residential.

Marcus: Right.

Stephen: So, we're talking about, at least, 80 units in that single tower.

Marcus: Golly, man. Time to buy some property in downtown, folks.

Stephen: If you could find it.

Marcus: Well, getting back to you, and how you kinda got started on this, 'cause I'm just fascinated by what's happening. 'Cause, we've been down here since 2004. And, if you had told me, in 2004, that this would ... I mean, let's just be real. Like, nobody came over, even 4 years ago, I don't know that people would've come to downtown, like they're coming now. I mean, things have changed drastically. Right?

Stephen: And, so much of that has to do with the culture that the Downtown Alliance has created, and Mayor Stimpson, and his administration has created of emphasizing downtown. But also, the state tax credit. So, when that program first passed in 2013, that was really the kick off, the catalyst, that has led to the revitalization of downtown Birmingham, especially, but also Mobile. We, kind of, caught the tail end of the program, closer to 2014, '15. And then, of course, it went away for one year, which put a lot of projects on hold. But, ever since it has passed two weeks ago, we've seen three projects close, just since the legislature was approved.

Marcus: Wow. So, going back to your path into this line of work. Do you remember ... Go back to the very first project that you worked on. Was that more part of your studies, or was that actually part of running your historic preservation business?

Stephen: The first project that I ever worked on was as a grad student on Tulane, placing a 1860s plantation on the National Register of Historic Places. And, oddly enough, the property was owned by Tulane, and was actually on the north shore, across from New Orleans, and had been converted into a Primate Research Center, around these historic buildings.

Marcus: A Primate Research Center.

Stephen: Which, was very odd. And so, after going through security checkpoints, and all the things you have to do at a Primate Research Center, then we would start the measuring, and the photography, and create the drawings. And, we submitted it to the National Park Service. And, we actually listed it on the National Register of Historic Places, and we conducted, what they call, a 'HAB Survey', the Historic American Building Survey. And, that's where you go into more detail, in terms of the drawings, and the schematics of the historic property.

Marcus: I mean, essentially, boil it down for people. What is it that ... What is the process entail, or what is it that you're actually doing? So, you're mentioning getting them on the registry. 'Cause, most people don't ... Well, I don't. I don't have any experience in what that means, or why I would wanna do that. Paint a picture for us. Show us. [crosstalk 00:16:56]

Stephen: Sure, sure. I get phone calls all the time, about people saying, "I want a plague on my house," or, "I want a shield on my house." I don't really understand what the difference is, and local state, and federal designation is. The simplest way to put it is, state designation, while interesting, really doesn't protect you, or give you any incentives. Federal designation protects you, in the sense that ... It doesn't purvey you from tearing your building down, or changing anything.
It's a misconception that if you're on the National Register, that means you can't touch anything. It's not true at all. You can do whatever you want. However, it incentives you to follow preservation guidelines, by making you eligible for historic tax credits in different grants. So, that's the difference, there. But, people call me all the time about paint color, and all these little things that ...

Marcus: It doesn't matter.

Stephen: No, it doesn't matter at all. And, to be listed on The National Register, it also doesn't have to be a property with columns, where George Washington slept. It can be any property, of 50 years of age, that has maintained the original character of the building.

Marcus: Interesting.

Stephen: And, that's really it. So, people think it has to be some kind of important plantation home, or some kind of antebellum mansion. Almost every building in the entire downtown, the [inaudible 00:18:07] district is listed on the National Register, because you have districts. And so, as long as it contributes to the general character of that district, it can be listed. And then, once it's listed, then it can be eligible for tax credits.

Marcus: Okay. So, I mean, that is a huge misconception then, because I was also under the impression that ... I guess, it's just the closer you would hear, you're outlining, the more tax credits, and grants, and stuff like that. So, it, kind of, behooves you, to stick to some of those guidelines. But, I mean, does it ... In your mind, does sticking to those guidelines, does it, kind of, pay for itself? Is it like a zero something game? You know, or does it really increase the cost of doing the build out?

Stephen: Well, that's the balance. Because, anybody can build new construction, or build a warehouse, in a cornfield.

Marcus: A metal building, or something like that. [crosstalk 00:19:07]

Stephen: Yeah. For a fraction of the price. And so, the federal government recognizes that, if they don't have these ... And state government. They recognize that if they don't have these kind of incentives, all of our downtowns and main streets are gonna, eventually, come abandoned, because it's just not going to make economic sense to restore a building, simply because you like old buildings.

Marcus: Right.

Stephen: There's a tremendous misconception that only in Congress, but also in Montgomery that, without these historic tax credits, lovers of historic buildings would still restore them, because they have an interest in preservation. It's not really the way it works. They have an interest in making money, and then, also if it happens to coincide, they have an interest in preservation.

Marcus: Right. Yeah. Well, what are you ... I mean, are there any projects that you can talk about, that you're working on right now, that would be of interest?

Stephen: We've got some fun ones in the pipeline. One is the old Blue Bird Hardware store, on Old Shell Road, right across from the entrance to UMS. This is a classic, mid-century, modern 1950s, commercial, post World War II construction that's really unique to the neighborhood. Gotta remember the time of construction, when I lived in the boonies. That was as far out as you could get. [crosstalk 00:20:19]

Marcus: The boonies. It's, like, in the middle of everything right now.

Stephen: Exactly. I mean, that was a feed and seed store. And so, the original character of that has been maintained immaculately. And so, a couple out of Spring Hill have bought it, and they're gonna make it a mix used commercial space, restaurant, coffee shop, just whatever kind of retail comes in, while maintaining the character. So, that's a classic tax credit situation. So many people look at that, and say, "Well, that's just a terrible building, from the 50s'. That'll never qualify for anything." But, it's exactly the kind of building that does qualify, because it's unique to a certain time, place, and period, that is unlike anything else.

Marcus: Well, and I would also just go back. I don't know when those buildings were built, but I mean, if you look at some of the old dealership buildings that are currently being rehabbed, so the Buick Building, for instance. That building is gorgeous, I mean. And, there was another one, and you mentioned it earlier, but I don't remember which one it is, that has, kind of, a glass shaped v to the front of the building.

Stephen: That's Nash Automotive, on St. Louis Street.

Marcus: Is that the Nash? Okay. And, it's just, I mean ... So, the dealerships back in the day, they had a style to them. You know, and that's cool. Those buildings are, I imagine, when they ... If I understand correctly, their intention is to keep that glass [inaudible 00:21:38], and do something kind of fun with it.

Stephen: Well, the whole idea is that, just like ... All of those structures were built as automobile dealerships, which is why St. Louis Street is part of the Automobile Alley National Register District.

Marcus: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Stephen: And, the whole premise is, that eventually, the automobile antiques may not be there in a hundred years, or whatever businesses occupying those spaces, won't be there in a hundred years. But, the premise is, once they leave, you can still tell that it was an automobile dealership, originally.

Marcus: Right.

Stephen: So, that's the balance of character. So, those large store front windows are crucial. Because, originally, those had automobiles in the windows. Which was revolutionary for Mobile, because these were the first automobile dealerships in, really, on the gulf coast, in the 1920s, and the 1930s. This was a revolutionary way of traveling, shopping, thinking about transportation. And, that's why St. Louis Street developed as an automobile corridor, because they sold automobiles.

Marcus: You and I are gonna go to lunch sometime soon, and I'm just gonna pick your brain. Because, I'm not coming from this area. You know, there's a lot of history, there. There's not really any ... We've got a book that sits on our coffee table, that's on Mobile, and some of the history of Mobile, and stuff like that. I will admit, it is a thick book, and I have not started diving into it. So, really, the information's there. But, I just find it so interesting to think about these things, and some of the areas of Mobile, and how they were formed, and why they were formed, and some of the stories that you hear about tunnels underneath buildings, here in Mobile.
I know there's a toll under the center, 'cause I've laid eyes on it. I've not gone into it, because man, it's freaky. But, I can imagine there are stories behind a lot of those things, that someone like yourself could expand on.

Stephen: I highly recommend checking out John Sledge's books on Mobile history.

Marcus: John Sledge?

Stephen: Yeah.

Marcus: Okay. Well, getting back on track. So, if you were talking to someone that wanted to get started in running their own business, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?

Stephen: Be prepared to surround yourself with people that know things, that you don't know.

Marcus: Yeah.

Stephen: And, that's the number one thing that I've found. Because, as you heard in all the credentials, and all the education, there wasn't a business class anywhere to be seen. And so, that's where, luckily, having a wife who's a CPA, who has that business acumen ... That's where your partners come in.

Marcus: Right.

Stephen: And, that's where understanding your limitations come in. You know, I'm not going to file my own taxes, and I'm not gonna try to file ...

Marcus: Nor, should you.

Stephen: No. So many people start their own business, and instead of spending the money to start it right, by hiring the right lawyers, and the right accountants, and the right advertising companies, and website designers. They try to do it all.

Marcus: Thanks for throwing that in there, by the way. No, yeah. It's interesting to me. If you ... There used to be this thought that you needed to work on all these different aspects, that in leadership books, and stuff like that, that you needed to focus on these aspects that you didn't necessarily know about, because you needed to be a well rounded leader. And, I think school, kind of, sometimes teaches us that. Right?
"Well, I suck at math." But, you need to learn math, because it's required for graduation, or required to go to college, or whatever. And, what I've come to understand, and I think, the mindset in leadership has changed over the course of the last, maybe, decade, is that really, the strength of a leader emanates from a certain area. If they're passionate about a certain section, or very deep in knowledge in a specific area of expertise, then they should focus on that, and then, just surround themselves with people that can, kind of, pick up the areas where they're not as knowledgeable. Right?

Stephen: That is exactly right. Because, the types of attorneys that I need for my business, and the types of accountants, can't simply be the types that have a general base knowledge of everything. I need those that understand how to syndicate historic tax credits, while creating LLCs of multiple partners, and pass through [inaudible 00:25:55], who understand property development. And so, that is a real specialized market. Just like, what we do is extremely specialized.
But, really, across the state of Alabama, there's really one other firm that does what we do. And so, that is an extremely specialized field. So, we get calls all the time from people saying, "I've heard of tax credits. I don't really know what they do. I wanna know a building. What can I do?"

Marcus: Right. So, really, your target market is folks that are looking to renovate, but want somebody to guide them through that process, that can share with them, the ins and outs, and what they really should pay attention to, and what isn't really necessary. Areas where they might be able to save some of those costs.

Stephen: That's right. We spent a lot of time on compliance, and design, and the bureaucratic process that is involved in receiving this money is expensive, to be polite. So, that is what we spend most of our time doing in Montgomery, and also, with the federal level. And, people need to also understand, this isn't some kind of free money program, where you get a check upfront. This is a credit, on the back end, only once a project has been placed into service, after the rehabilitation.
So, you can't just fix up the building and sit on it. You've got to put jobs into place, there. And so, helping people through that entire process, of do diligence, understanding what they have, what they can do, and then, how to do it. That's really what we guide architects, and developers, and contractors through.

Marcus: Wow. That's cool. All right, so, I always ask about books. You know that. Whether it's an audiobook, or an actual, physical book. It doesn't really matter to me. But, what I'd like you to do is, I normally ask are the last two books that you've read, that you found helpful. I'd like you to ... John Sledge, was the guy's name?

Stephen: Right.

Marcus: If he's got a book, in particular, that you think people should read, if they're interested in history of Mobile, then go ahead and mention that by name. But, also, just a book or two that you've read about business, or that you've just found helpful over the, say, last 12 months. What would you name? What are the books that you would name?

Stephen: I know John is working on his ... He's just completed a new book about the Civil War in Mobile, and the Mobile area. But, the one that we wrote about the Mobile Bay, about Mobile Bay, is especially interesting about the nautical history of Mobile, and the shipping industry, and just kind of ... It's a great overview of how we came to be here.

Marcus: Interesting.

Stephen: I think that's an extremely important book to read. And then, speaking of why we're here, the E.O. Wilson, which I think that's the title of it, is extremely interesting to read about Mobile, and the Baldwin area, and about the relationship between the built environment, and the ecosystem, and the human culture of this area, of how we came to adapt, and survive, and succeed in such a strange place.

Marcus: Right. Any business books that you'd like to throw in there, as well?

Stephen: Yeah. I haven't really read any. I mean, I could lie and say that I've read ...

Marcus: No, it's totally fine if you haven't. I mean, we're curious if there were any ... And, it doesn't really have to be books. Like, resources as a business owner, that you've found helpful.

Stephen: Well, see, that's a whole different thing. So, Business Alabama Magazine is extremely interesting. It kind of puts you in touch with understanding what's going on across the state. The Chamber of Commerce does a good job of keeping everybody educated in Mobile, on Mobile business, and trends. But, reading the Wall Street Journal, cover to cover every morning at my breakfast table has been the greatest way to keep up with business.

Marcus: So, you're ... Man, that's really interesting. [crosstalk 00:29:25] Yeah, no, I getcha. I heard it in your voice. That is a rare thing, nowadays, that somebody would pick up a paper, and read it cover to cover. You mentioned an article this morning, but I would imagine that does really, kind of, give you a glimpse into everything that's going on in the world today. Whether it's technology, or business, or investment, or just news, in general, right?

Stephen: Yeah. Whether it's the trends in the tech industry, or the alcohol industry, globally, or Airbnb, or just trends in office space workspaces, and design. Every day, it's something really interesting.

Marcus: So, what do you like to do in your free time? Do you have any hobbies?

Stephen: I do. I spend a lot of time in the outdoors. The Appalachian Trail, in fact. I try to get up there every chance I get. I try to spend as much time as I can at the beach, and just kind of, on the water.

Marcus: Of course.

Stephen: Yeah. And, I spend a lot of time trying to find places that I've never seen before. You know, whether it's rambling through the black belt, and checking out small towns, or old houses, or commercial districts I haven't seen, trying to take pictures of it. And, trying to spend as much time as I can with my wife, and exploring Mobile, as well.

Marcus: Yeah. I would imagine, being very, very interested in history, there is a plethora of places you can go down here, that people would overlook, at first glance. But, if you were to tell somebody, like, in all of the southeast, a place that's really impressed you with the architecture, and the history, and all that stuff. What's a place that you would suggest that they would go?

Stephen: You mean, in terms of a city center? Or, in terms of, like, a museum?

Marcus: Sure.

Stephen: You can't go wrong with the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, right there on St. Charles Avenue. And, from there, you can walk around the corner to the Civil War Museum of New Orleans, which is really interesting. And, of course, extremely relevant, more now, than ever, in terms of New Orleans culture.

Marcus: Yeah.

Stephen: The Historic New Orleans Collection, though, on Royal Street, in the French quarter, is probably the most comprehensive history museum in the southeast. I mean, it's really been next level. They have a research division, they have a museum aspect to it, they have lecture series. It's really impressive.

Marcus: Well done.

Stephen: Yeah.

Marcus: Yeah. Very cool.

Stephen: But, in terms of Mobile, I do wanna put in a plug in for what's happening in Fort Conde. That is being redeveloped right now, by the same guys that run the Duck Boat Operation.

Marcus: Yeah. Scott Tindle.

Stephen: Exactly.

Marcus: Yeah. He was on a year ago. So, yeah, he's doing a phenomenal job. But, why don't you, kind of, give people an update on what's going on over there?

Stephen: We've actually partnered with him on this project. And so, Scott and his team are doing a fantastic job of making sure that the Fort is not only fun and modern, but also, historically accurate. And so, that's where we come in, and then, we try to help them with things like, living history reenactors, public history demonstrations, uniforms, flags.
We just did an analysis with Dr. Waselkov from the University of South Alabama, Department of Archeology on the exhibits. And, we brought him in specifically, because I think, he probably dug up half of the exhibits. So, we wanted to make sure he was okay with everything. [crosstalk 00:33:04]

Marcus: [inaudible 00:33:06] So, in part of the Order of Fuse, and the very first year that Grant started Order of Fuse, they had the kickoff event, if you will, at Fort Conde. I don't know that I've had that much fun, in a long time. It was just a blast of a night. They brought in a band from New Orleans. It was just a great place. But, I had never been there before, and walking through some of the exhibits, just, kind of, blew me away.
And, I know that there's been a lot more to, kind of, mature that, since Scott and the team have taken that over. And, are they making that part of the Duck Boat tour? Is that, kind of, the goal?

Stephen: I think that is the goal. The new dual tickets. But, he's hired a staff that ... They're open now, 7 days a week.

Marcus: Okay.

Stephen: And, they have events there, for children. You can rent it out for parties, and events, weddings, et cetera. But, they're also working on developing a restaurant within the Fort, which is gonna serve [inaudible 00:34:08] and alcohol.

Marcus: Interesting.

Stephen: They're working on the gift shop experience. And, they're working on the, kind of, hands on, living, learning experiences for kids, where they're learning Mobile history without understanding that they're learning Mobile history.

Marcus: I was one of those kids.

Stephen: Yeah. And, that's such a great spot. When you think about the correlation, or the location of it, between the cruise ship, and Royal Street, and Lower Dauphin Street, and the Bienville Square, it's the perfect place for a tourist to come in, and maybe, has one day in Mobile. They can do the Duck Boat tour, they can visit Fort Conde, walk over to the Square and have lunch. It's the perfect position.

Marcus: Something that's interesting to me, not being from the area, we do have family, and friends, and stuff like that, that will come and visit. And, my hope, as sad as this is, my hope is always that they come in the summer months, because in the summer months, I know I can take them to the beach, and entertain them. But, quite honestly, for an area that has as much history as Mobile does, there are a few places that you can go, but it's not like a day long experience. So, it's nice to see that there are these people that are, kind of, looking at tourism in Mobile on a grander scale, and trying to think outside of the battleship.
'Cause, the battleship, you probably could spend a whole day there. But, outside of that, there are many places where visitors from outside of the area can go, and spend half a day, or something along those lines. And, I know, from talking to Scott, that he's got grand plans for ... He wants this to be very much a tourist destination, and is working closely with the city, in order to hopefully, make that happen. 'Cause, right now, the view is that, this is really just, kind of, a place people drive by to go to the beach. Right?
I'm glad to see that there are people putting effort into that, because it is extremely important that people have things to do here. But, also, that we're communicating that history to folks. You know? That Mardi Gras started here, go to the Mardi Gras Museum. Fort Conde was a staple in establishing this area, and the role that it played in all the different wars. Wasn't just one, but all the different wars that it was involved in.
No, that's good. All right, so, tell people where they can find out more about you, about the business, about the things ... If they're needing help, how would they contact you?

Stephen: They should go to the website. McNair, H, P, dot com. ( Or, look up McNair Historic Preservation on Facebook. You'll see all the different services that we offer, whether it's listing a property on the National Register of Historic Places, historic tax credits, which we have discussed. But, also, we do a lot of municipal work, working with local governments. You'll see government relations. We handle ... It's really a full service operation.

Marcus: Yeah. No, that's very cool. Well, I wanna thank you, again, for coming on the podcast wrap up. Any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?

Stephen: No. I'm just excited to see you downtown, and I'm excited to see so many people looking back ... Looking, like I said, looking east. It's almost like collectively, as a community, in the past 5 years, we've all turned around and said, "Oh, look. There's a downtown." Which, is fantastic, because it was bound to happen. And so, it's real exciting to be in Mobile at this time, and to be a part of that. And, there's so, so many people within the Stimpson Administration, and within nonprofits, who are really making the effort, collectively, to relocate downtown, or make a big push to buy and rehabilitate buildings. I'm just very proud of Mobile, right now.

Marcus: Yeah. It's important. I don't think people get how important that vibrate downtown is to the ecosystem, and the, what's the, economy, of this area.

Stephen: You're exactly right. The Mayor of Pittsburgh came as the keynote's speaker, two years ago, to the ...

Marcus: I saw that, and was blown away. [crosstalk 00:38:11] Yeah. Finish your thought.

Stephen: Well, his main point of the lecture was, "No great city has a bad downtown." Every great city has a great downtown. And so, that's the key of it. I mean, there are many other elements to that, as well, but you've gotta start with the 101.

Marcus: So, normally, this is where we would wrap up. But, I think this is important to state is that, the thing that I took away from that talk was, the planning that they put into place, in Pittsburgh, so they purposefully put the stadium where it was, and did not provide enough parking, because they wanted people to park over in the entertainment district, to go and have a drink, or have dinner, and then, go to the stadium, and watch the whatever sports event was taking place there. I think it was ... Is it not the Steelers Stadium?

Stephen: Yeah.

Marcus: It is the Steelers Stadium. So, they purposefully ... Like, even the thought process of, "Well, how much parking are we gonna have? And, how much should it be?", was a push to create an economy on the other side of the river, that runs through Pittsburgh. And then, there's just a short walk over across the footbridge, that people actually get to the stadium. So, I mean, it was even those thoughts of, "Well, how much parking should there be in downtown? And, where should that parking be?"
We've got a civic center that's not currently being used for a whole lot. How does that play into all of this? I can see the wheels turning for a lot of people in Mobile, after that. I've had a lot of followup conversations. And, I think that talk was, kind of, pivotal to a lot of things that are happening downtown now, as well.

Stephen: I completely agree. I think talks like that, and ideas like that, are giving us the confidence to know that we can be the best we can be. And that, Mobile, for so long, I feel like, has been the bridesmaid. Where, we'll just, kind of, settle. You know? If somebody wants to come to Mobile with their business, we'll just, kind of, let them have a design that doesn't fit the character of the neighbor, because we're just glad they're here. It's time that we started saying, "Well, we're glad you're here. But, we have a certain way of doing things to keep the character, and to keep the context of Mobile."

Marcus: Yeah. That's awesome. Well, Stephen, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me, and share your journey as a business owner. And, in this case, historian of Mobile. It's been great talking with you.

Stephen: Marcus, thank you very much.

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