Missouri Preservation conference focuses on revitalizing historic Main Streets

Posted on May 20, 2017

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Downtown Main Streets are an important component of any historic downtown, and the Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation conference guests and speakers are well aware of it.

The annual statewide conference started Wednesday in Hannibal and continues through Friday. It marks the second time in more than two decades that it has been held in America's Hometown. About 140 architects and people involved in historic preservation registered for the event, and its various breakout sessions served as continuing education credits for many.

One of the conference highlights was keynote speaker Mary Helmer, president and coordinator of Main Street Alabama. On Thursday, she shared tips on how to redevelop downtown and neighborhood commercial districts.

"I believe in historic preservation as an economic tool. If you don't focus on historic downtowns, it hurts the community," Helmer said. "People look for authenticity, and downtown historic authenticity is what they focus on."

She explained the importance of a revitalized downtown.

"A community's central business district often accounts for as much as 30 percent of a town's jobs and 40 percent of its tax base," Helmer said.

"Downtown is more than an economic asset. It is a community's crossroads ... that evokes strong emotions and helps define identity. What you do (to revitalize downtown Main Streets) is important to your community now and important in the future."

She stressed that for downtown revitalization projects to succeed, they need community members to agree that their Main Street and historic preservation is important to them. If people don't seem to shop downtown, ask them why, she said, and then work to change their perceptions of how Main Street can be of value to them.

"Look at things from an entrepreneurial standpoint," she said.

Helmer said funding revitalization projects will always be an issue, and she recommended that people build relationships with public and elected officials and network with developers at conferences like the one this week in Hannibal to help overcome barriers to downtown development.

Conference attendees also had the opportunity to attend several educational sessions that used Hannibal buildings and buildings in surrounding areas as examples.

In one session, people were bused around Hannibal's historic districts and learned how to classify architectural styles; in another, the historic Eighth and Center Streets Baptist Church served as a model for developing preservation techniques to overcome deferred maintenance.

"Unlike previous conferences, we have more hands-on sessions, which people seem to be enjoying," Missouri Preservation Administrator Rile Price said. "We're excited to be here in Hannibal because it is such a historic town. People tend to think it's just historic for Mark Twain. (With the conference), you get to see the other side of its history other than Mark Twain."

Two St. Louis architects involved in historic preservation attended the conference to learn more about their field.

"Some of our more recent projects have been recognized by Missouri Preservation, so since we have these notable projects, we're interested in how we can be more involved in preservation," said Beth Kutterer-Sanchez, an architect with Mackey Mitchell Architects. The historic preservation projects she referred to are the St. Louis Soldiers Memorial Military Museum and the Basilica of Saint Louis.

Her co-worker Jennifer Plocher Wilkins agreed.

"The information has been great, and it's good to know the best practices in historic preservation," she said.

One of the most asked question at the conference had to do with why a representative with the Missouri Department of Transportation was there.

The answer: Historic bridges and other areas of transportation need preservation, too.

"Being here is a great way to get the public involved in preservation and educate them on historic preservation advocacy," said conference speaker Karen Daniels, a MoDOT historic preservation specialist.

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