Thoughts from the Statewide Preservation Conference

News was light last week, so instead of a roundup I’m going to write about the Statewide Preservation Conference held on the Gulf Coast this past Thursday & Friday.  The Conference was a joint effort of Mississippi Heritage Trust, Mississippi Department of Archives and History and Mississippi Main Street Association.

The conference officially kicked off after lunch, when we were all welcomed to Ocean Springs by Mayor Connie Moran.  About all I remember is that she talked too long for my taste and told everyone about another event that was going on this weekend (the reenactment of the French landing in Ocean Springs).

One of the main reasons I went down to the Coast was to hear Don Rypkema speak on Historic Preservation and the Economy.  Like others in Historic Preservation, I had read his work, but having a chance to hear this Internationally recognized economist speak was pretty amazing.  Typically when the topic is Economics, I get a glazed-eye look and want to run screaming, but Rypkema is not your typical “dry, boring Economist.”

Rypkema talked about how Historic Preservation is at the center of where Environmentalism, Economics and various social concerns intersect.  Environmentalists, he said, have taken the definition of the term and skewed it to where most people think just of the new “green” building materials (such as rainwater collection, solar panels, etc).  They (and I think we) forget that finding a way to reuse an old building is also good for the environment.

The economic data he presented was fascinating – and I jotted down some of his sources because there was SO much information that I just couldn’t write fast enough.  Especially interesting was that he (and others) have started to look at data from the recent recession years to see if early studies showed benefits because the economy as a whole was not doing well.  So far, the stats are that the rates on foreclosures are 50% less in Local Historic Districts than in comparable other neighborhoods.

The general public still seems to think that Preservation is about the places and stories associated with “dead white guys” – but Rypkema showed us that historic districts – especially neighborhoods – are among the most diverse in our cities.  They also tend to be more walkable – which is a good thing for those concerned not only about the environment, but also about the obesity issue in our nation.

Basically, if you ever have the chance to hear him speak, take it.  You can also find a lot of his work online with a Google search.

Having the task of following Rypkema was Randy Hemann of Downtown Salisbury Inc.  While I thought that Rypkema was a great speaker to have and all the information was fascinating (at least to me) – I think that more people at the conference could take what Hemann presented and apply it to their communities.

Salisbury, North Carolina isn’t near the mountains nor a major water source – it only has its historic character going for it, and the town seems to be doing rather well.  Hemann talked a lot about how to present the economic benefits of preservation to local officials – specifically talking about the “study” he did of different types of properties in and around town.  It was not the type of academic study Rypkema would have done, but it was the type of basic research on Salisbury that Hemann could do and present to members of his community.  I think that ANYONE in ANY community can do what he did.

Using public records, he picked a suburban house, a lakefront house and an historic house to find out their tax value when adjusted to the value of the property per acre.  Turns out, the historic house had a larger tax base value than either of the other properties.  He did the same with a commercial “big box” store and a downtown commercial building.  The value of the downtown historic property was far superior to the big box store.

Other talks over the two days provided a lot of other good information to attendees, as well as tours both before the sessions started on Thursday and after the luncheon on Friday.  I did not attend either tour and had to miss the luncheon as well, so I don’t know yet which projects received awards – but I’ll be watching for the press releases.  From what I hear, the early tour – which was “Arts” based (not a surprise in Ocean Springs right?) was a hit with those who took advantage.  There was a reception Thursday night at the Redding House in Biloxi – which was a neat house to see, and the networking aspect of such an event is ALWAYS a good thing.  Anytime I go to a conference, the seemingly “social” events are as important as the speakers you hear.

I’ve mentioned a lot of good from the conference – and as a whole it was – but I do have to point out one session that I was disappointed in – the Media Panel on Thursday.  I had hoped to get good insight for how preservationists can work with their local press, but it turned into a lot about the newspaper business in general (and as Roundup Guru for MissPres, I was very sad to hear the three panelists talk about how many more newspapers were shifting to charging subscriptions for online content).  One gentleman in the audience asked – basically – what to include in a press release or news story that he (or his organization) might submit for publication (because the newsmen did say that people could–and implied that they SHOULD–do so) and all the guys told him was to make sure that the photos weren’t too big and that the text was in the email and an attached word file.

Next year is a 10 Most Endangered Places year for MHT again, so the Statewide conference will just be one day, but I hope that the organizers from MHT and MDAH are able to put together some more great speakers like Rypkema and Hemann to share their insight on whatever the topic theme is.  I also hope that a lot of MissPres readers will be there!

Categories: Gulf Coast, Historic Preservation, Mississippi Heritage Trust, MS Dept. of Archives and History, National Trust, Preservation People/Events

1 reply

  1. I take exception to the dry, boring Economist jab… no I don’t.


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