Consulting firm to calculate economic impact of Main Street preservation efforts

Friday, December 2, 2016
A view of downtown Cape Girardeau on Thursday. Marla Mills, executive director of Old Town Cape, said downtown historic-preservation efforts are "really about saving the vitality of our community."
ANDREW J. WHITAKER

A Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm will calculate the economic impact of historic-preservation efforts through Missouri’s Main Street program, including local efforts to repurpose buildings in Cape Girardeau and Jackson.

Representatives of PlaceEconomics, led by Donovan Rypkema, toured historic areas in Cape Girardeau and Jackson earlier this week.

They also met with community and historic-preservation leaders, business owners and developers who have been involved in various efforts to find new commercial uses for historic buildings.

Rypkema said such visits involve “listening to people.”

He added his company will look at economic data.

“The numerical side is necessary, but not sufficient,” he said Thursday, adding it is important to hear from those who have been involved in local preservation efforts.

“This is really just the first step,” he said of the grant-funded study.

The company was hired by Missouri Main Street Connection Inc., a not-for-profit organization founded in 2004 to revive the Main Street program, which was losing state funding.

A view of downtown Cape Girardeau on Thursday.
ANDREW J. WHITAKER ~ awhitaker@semissourian.com

The Main Street group seeks to help communities preserve their historic buildings and revitalize their downtowns.

The organization is overseen by a board of directors headed by Southeast Missouri State University history professor Steven Hoffman, who coordinates the school’s historic-preservation program.

The Main Street organization has helped 114 Missouri communities, according to its website.

Hoffman said the consultants’ visit to Cape Girardeau and Jackson, as well as other Main Street communities in the state, will help put a “human face” on historic-preservation efforts.

Rypkema said his firm’s study will seek to define the economic impact of the Main Street program over the past decade.

He said the study should be completed by May.

Cape Girardeau’s Main Street program operates through the Old Town Cape organization.

Marla Mills, Old Town Cape executive director, said Cape Girardeau is one of only six accredited Main Street communities in Missouri. Old Town Cape has been a Main Street-accredited program since 2005, she said.

“It is not just about saving buildings or history,” Mills said of downtown preservation efforts. “It is really about saving the vitality of our community.”

The efforts of the Main Street organization and Old Town Cape have helped create “an environment that makes downtown vibrant,” Mills said.

The study provides “a very credible, tangible way to look at the work we do,” she said.

PlaceEconomics has more than 30 years of experience in analyzing economic impacts of historic preservation, according to the company’s website.

Rypkema said communities benefit from reusing old buildings.

“It has not only an economic impact; it has a huge environmental impact,” he said.

Renovating and reusing buildings for commercial purposes offers an alternative to tearing down old structures and putting up new ones, Rypkema said.

He said the analysis will have a statewide focus but include case studies of specific communities, including Cape Girardeau and Jackson, which is a Main Street affiliate member.

Hoffman, who heads the Missouri Main Street Connection board, said the study also will look at two other preservation programs: the Certified Local Government program and historic-preservation tax credits.

The Certified Local Government program provides a mechanism for cities to receive technical training from the state historic-preservation office and to obtain federal historic-preservation grants.

Such cities are required to have historic-preservation ordinances and preservation commissions.

Cape Girardeau has a preservation ordinance and commission. Jackson city officials are looking at setting up a similar structure to address historic preservation.

Hoffman said tax credits provide “one of the few incentives” to encourage renovation of historic buildings. He said he expects the study will demonstrate the benefits of the Main Street program and “help further the cause” of historic preservation.

mbliss@semissourian.com

(573) 388-3641

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