Expert says city could press to preserve downtown

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Michael Koop of the Minnesota Historical Society spoke at the Elks Club Tuesday night on the issue of downtown restoration and redevelopment, stressing the importance of setting up a local historic building preservation society.

&uot;What can be done to protect buildings is to set up a preservation commission in the city,&uot; Koop said. &uot;That’s where the teeth are in preservation.&uot;

A commission, Koop said, can be set up if the city passes an ordinance. The commission would work specifically on the issue of historic preservation. Koop said that such a group could more easily go after grants and would have the power within the city government to make recommendations on how downtown can be historically renovated.

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Koop said that 51 cities across the state have the commissions and each has done a great deal of work in historic preservation.

The positives of historic redevelopment, according to Koop, are numerous. The most interesting of these is tourism. He said that tourism is a $9 billion a year industry in the state and that it gives Minnesotans 130,000 jobs. He also said that heritage tours are the third-most-popular reasons for vacations.

Koop also said tourists who are visiting towns on historic-tour vacations are likely to spend a half-day longer in town and spend $62 per day in the town. He pointed at tourism as a compelling reason, beyond public enjoyment, for putting effort into downtown redevelopment.

Koop stressed that grants are available and that there are ways to get funding for historic preservation but that most require matching funds from either the city or private donors.

He said getting a grant from the Department of Trade and Economic Development (DTED) is one of the best places to go for money. The city is sending in an application for a grant from DTED, which Koop seemed to say is a step in the right direction.

Koop also commended the Metro Plains, the developing company that has arranged to buy Lea Center and turn it into apartments and some commercial space.

&uot;They have a great track record,&uot; he said, pointing out very successful projects they have had with converting old buildings into affordable housing for seniors.

Koop finished by saying that strong, progressive leadership is needed in order to get historic preservation projects off of the ground.