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Granholm Makes, Honors Michigan History

First-ever awards spotlight preservation projects

June 5, 2003 | By Charlene Crowell
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Mac McClelland/MLUI
  Consumers Energy won a state historic preservation award for restoring downtown Jackson’s old main post office. It now serves as the grand entrance to the company’s new headquarters and helps anchor that city’s downtown revitalization efforts.

LANSING — For the first time ever, Michigan has officially honored some of the state's best examples of historic preservation. In a ceremony and news conference held in a markedly historic setting — under the Capitol Dome — Governor Jennifer Granholm praised the work of individual citizens, companies, and local governments in five different cities that recently rescued buildings from death by either neglect or the wrecking ball.

The governor emphasized that the significance of the projects went far beyond cosmetics.

“Whether you are a business that preserves a historic structure, or a family that turns a former eyesore into a wonderful gem of a home,” Ms. Granholm said, “preservation does more than just save buildings — it saves communities. These awards honor those who help us to know who we are as a state and where we came from.”

The awards, which were presented May 9, went to a wide array of endeavors. They ranged from rescuing a Victorian mansion that had become a crack house, to transforming a splendid old downtown post office into the grand entrance for a company’s new headquarters, to an archeological dig that is providing a new window into the earliest days of European settlement of the state.
Plenty of History, Plenty of Reasons
Experts say that Michigan’s rich, centuries-long heritage provides fertile soil for preservation. From the first French explorers and traders in the 17th century, through the burgeoning economic expansion in the 19th century due to mining, lumbering and railroads, to the huge migrations from Europe and the South, to industrial sites throughout the 20th century, the state’s history is contained in thousands of buildings that are often in danger of being flattened or left to rot in favor of new development.

Reflecting on the ceremony’s significance, Brian D. Conway, State Historic Preservation Officer for the Michigan Historical Center, emphasized that each of the recipients had a different reason for engaging in their often-challenging preservation efforts.

“The award-winning projects reflect commitment to downtowns, reinvestment in traditional neighborhoods, and the protection of historic resources threatened by sprawling development,” he said. 

But the value of historic preservation goes beyond questions of heritage, history and community preservation, according to Michigan’s Director of the Department of History, Arts and Libraries, Dr. William Anderson. During the ceremony he noted that historic preservation has added a total of $1.7 billion to Michigan’s economy and has returned almost $32 million to local property tax rolls since 1971.

The State Historic Preservation Review Board and the State Historic Preservation Office selected the five projects for the first annual Governor’s Awards for Historic Preservation. They went to successful restorations in Ann Arbor, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Macomb County, and Niles. Nancy Finegood, executive director of the Michigan Historical Preservation Network, said that taken together the projects reflect the state’s rich history.

“The award winning properties are as diverse as Michigan’s large collection of historic resources, covering a broad spectrum of historic eras, architectural styles, building types, and land uses,” Ms. Finegood said. “This diversity makes it clear that historic preservation is not only possible, but truly advantageous, using a variety of funding options and tax incentives.”

The Winners
In Kalamazoo, for example, John and Judith Pulver used state historic tax credits to help them transform a condemned crack house into a source of pride for their community. They restored a Victorian house located in the city’s South Street Historic District, increased its usable square footage within the original building’s footprint by reducing the number of rental units from four to three, and provided tenants with larger, modernized living spaces — all without increasing monthly rents.

In Ann Arbor, Jeff and Ellen Crockett worked with local architects, historians, and the local historic district commission to preserve the architectural integrity of the home they live in, the historic John Schumacher House in the city’s Old Fourth Ward Historic District.

In Jackson, a major utility company, Consumers Energy, spent $6 million restoring that town’s former main post office, a classic example of Beaux Arts architecture. The project is a major milestone for that city’s ongoing downtown revitalization; the grand building now serves as an impressive entranceway to the company’s modern, new, steel-and-glass headquarters.

In Macomb County, an award-winning project sprang from a complex collaboration between a major auto company, a foundation, and a township. The Ford Motor Land Development Company leased the 14-acre historic complex of buildings and grounds of the Packard Motor Car Company Proving Ground Testing Facility, built in 1927, from the Packard Motor Car Foundation. Shelby Township played a crucial role; it held off developers that were eager to buy the prime land and instead rezoned it so that it became eligible for historic preservation funds. The site may now be listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

And in Niles, a five-year collaboration between two Western Michigan University archeologists, Drs. Michael Nassaney and William Cremin, and a group called Support the Fort succeeded in locating and then excavating the ruins of Fort St. Joseph. The fort played a crucial role in the Great Lakes fur trade and, later, the struggle between France and Britain for control of the region. The fort, originally built in 1691, was found buried on land owned by the City of Niles, which now supports the archaeological dig. Now the Fort St. Joseph Museum promotes the project, which will provide authoritative information on an important era in Michigan history and, officials hope, eventually become a tourist destination.

Spreading the Word
Preservationists at the gathering were clearly pleased to see the state government finally giving the ongoing, persistent, quiet efforts of their peers attracting what they see as well-deserved state recognition. Pamela O’Connor, president of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, stressed that, beyond all of the good feelings the awards engendered, they send important and necessary messages to citizens, companies, and government officials.

“What I see as the most important aspect of these first annual awards is the collaboration that took place to get these projects accomplished,” Ms. O’Connor said. “Preservation is clearly the culturally responsible, sustainable, right way to do things, but not always the easiest way to do things. The right way often isn’t. The collaboration that I know took place between multiple parties to make these projects happen sets a standard for the future. I’ve always  known these kinds of projects are possible. But now, thanks to the Governor and her staff — a lot more people are going to know as well.”

Charlene Crowell is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s Lansing policy specialist. She can be reached at charlene@mlui.org.


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