Monday, May 4, 2009
Our 23rd Annual Regional Preservation Conference in Medina this past Saturday was a hit! About 150 preservationists, community activists, preservation board members, planners, architects, craftspeople, and more gathered in the Erie Canal village of Medina, in western Orleans County. The keynote address by Roberta Lane of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, letting us know how preservation might weather the current economic storms, set the perfect tone for a day jam-packed with helpful information about how everyone who owns, works in, lives in, or cares for a historic building can save money, save the environment, and save their community's character.
I was the moderator for Track A: "Where's the Money?" Our first speaker was Jayme Breschard, who is coordinating the fledgling Western Erie Canal Main Street program. She took what seems like a scary topic and put it into very understandable terms, even for former humanities majors like myself. Her enthusiasm for the topic was infectious! I learned that there is a very doable process for evaluating what a downtown has, what it could support, and how citizens can go about closing the gap between what is and what could be.
Our second session focused on grants and other funding sources for historic preservation. Chris Leo from the New York Main Street grant program explained how his agency's grants work and how communities can take advantage of them. I was glad to learn more about a funding source that I had heard of but haven't had direct exposure to yet. Roberta Lane returned to the microphone to tell us about National Trust grants; I thought I knew all there was to know about these funding sources, having successfully applied for Trust funding before, but I discovered there are a couple of grants I hadn't heard of before. Then it was my turn to give a whirlwind tour of "everything else" - and I learned that while it often feels like there is no funding out there for preservation, there really is enough to fill up an hourlong session! I hope that my brief introduction to the variety of sources out there, coupled with our very informative funding handout, got people thinking about funding they might not have considered before.
Lunch in the 1950s-style (although 1990s-built) Medina High School cafeteria was a treat, catered by Medina's own Zambistro Restaurant. It would be worth a trip to Medina just to eat at this fine establishment, one of the newer anchors of Main Street Medina. (With the one-of-a-kind Medina Railroad Museum just up the road, this would make a great family day trip!)
The afternoon session of Track A was the highlight of the day for me. Participants met in the partially rehabilitated Newell Building, just off Main Street. The young attorney, Medina native, and entrepreneur Andrew Meier purchased this handsome, three-story brick building for $20,000 a few years ago and has been working diligently on a million-dollar rehabilitation, taking advantage of Medina's Historic Tax Exemption, the federal tax credits for historic rehabilitation, the National Trust Loan Fund, the New York Main Street program, and the National Grid Main Street Program. He has already opened an elegant, trendy coffee shop on the first floor, and expects to complete rehab work for offices on the second floor and loft apartments on the third.
Andrew is an enthusiastic, committed spokesperson for the creative reuse of great historic buildings, and he and architect Clinton Brown shared their perspectives on what it takes to do a project such as this. After their very informative presentations, Andrew and Clint took us on a tour of the building so we could see for ourselves the amazing spaces in their raw form.
The day finished off with a fascinating tour of upper-floor spaces in downtown Medina: from a fully utilized second-floor space that houses professional offices and a beautiful meeting space, to a collection of vacant second and third floors with tremendous potential for reuse, we saw an incredible cross-section of the challenges and opportunities that exist above the mostly occupied storefronts.
I hope my fellow conference-goers and staff bloggers will chime in with their own highlights of the day - and I hope that if you missed the conference this year, you'll join us next year, or join us at one of our other upcoming events!
We are so grateful to our sponsors, who helped make this year's conference a success: Preservation Buffalo Niagara, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Village of Medina, and the Medina Central School District.
[Photos, from top to bottom: Main Street Medina; The Shirt Factory Cafe in the Newell Building; Andrew Meier shows conference attendees his work-in-progress.]