Strategies in Historic Preservation

May 31, 2023 | Ben White

Historic Preservation, as it pertains to Main Street efforts, is a collective effort to protect and preserve the historic character and heritage of a downtown area. It involves the involvement of community members, local organizations, and government entities to protect historic buildings, landmarks, and cultural sites, as well as promote the overall revitalization and sustainability of the downtown area.

May is designated as Preservation Month by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a month of celebration and advocacy. As May comes to an end the advocacy, celebration, and hard work to preserve the historic character and heritage of our historic commercial districts and downtown areas does not stop, here are some strategies to implement for downtown historic preservation efforts throughout the year:

Local Historic District Designation: Identifying and designating specific areas as historic districts helps ensure that the unique architectural and cultural features are preserved through local policy and enforcement. Local governments often establish guidelines and regulations for the preservation, restoration, and renovation of buildings within these designated districts.

Public Education and Outreach: Educating the community about the value of historic preservation is crucial. Workshops, seminars, walking tours, and educational programs can help raise awareness about the significance of historic buildings and their contribution to the community’s identity and sense of place. 

Students in Clinton, Missouri.

Pictured Above: Students in Clinton, Missouri.

Partnerships and Collaboration: Collaboration between local government agencies, historic preservation organizations, community groups, and property owners is essential for successful preservation efforts. By working together, they can share resources, expertise, and funding opportunities to support preservation initiatives.

Incentives and Funding: Providing financial incentives, grants, and tax credits can encourage property owners to invest in the preservation and restoration of historic buildings. These incentives can help offset the costs associated with maintaining and rehabilitating older structures.

Design Guidelines and Regulations: Establishing clear design guidelines and regulations ensures that any changes or renovations made to historic buildings are in line with their original architectural style and character. This helps maintain the historical integrity of the downtown area. 

Pictured Above: Fossil Forge before and after in Lee’s Summit, MO.

Adaptive Reuse: Encouraging adaptive reuse of historic buildings promotes their continued use and revitalization. Converting old buildings into new functional spaces such as restaurants, galleries, offices, or residential units can breathe new life into the downtown area while preserving its historical fabric. 

Pictured Above: Washington Farmers Market before and after in Washington, MO. 

Heritage Tourism: Promoting your Main Street’s heritage to attract tourists who enjoy vacationing or visiting locations with rich heritages can help generate economic benefits for the community while raising awareness about the historical significance of downtown. Cultural events, festivals, and guided tours can attract visitors, support local businesses, and create a sense of pride among community members.

Maintenance and Restoration: Regular maintenance and timely restoration of historic buildings are essential to ensure their long-term preservation. Encouraging property owners to undertake necessary repairs and providing technical assistance and resources can help in this regard. Missouri Main Street Connection has resources on building material and maintenance best practices and recently completed a webinar on these resources which can be found here:

Documentation and Research: Conducting thorough documentation and research of historic buildings and sites contributes to a better understanding of the community’s history and aids in preservation efforts. Archival records, oral histories, and archaeological studies help establish a comprehensive knowledge base for future preservation work. 

Warrensburg Main Street

Pictured Above: Plaque next to a historic property in Warrensburg Main Street’s district.

Advocacy and Planning: Active community involvement and advocacy play a vital role in preserving downtown’s historic character. Engaging stakeholders, attending public hearings, and participating in urban planning processes can help influence policies and decisions that affect historic preservation.

By embracing these strategies, Main Street organizations can work towards the sustainable preservation of their downtown areas, protecting their heritage for future generations while fostering economic vitality and cultural pride.

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