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May is Preservation Month

Facebook: Downtown Burlington Iowa
The McConnell Building is among the preservation efforts being spotlighted in Downtown Burlington during Preservation Month..

Nearly 50 years ago, the National Trust for Historic Preservation declared the month of May as Preservation Month. It is a way to promote historic places and highlight the social and economic benefits of historic preservation. The head of Burlington's Historic Preservation Commission said he sees the benefits of local historic preservation efforts on a daily basis.

“We are on track, this year, to reach $100 million in private investment in Burlington since our Main Street program began in 1986, which is a tremendous achievement,” said Steve Frevert.

Frevert also serves as Executive Director of Downtown Partners, Inc., Burlington's local Main Street program. He has been celebrating the successes of historic preservation efforts in Burlington by sharing photos and stories on the Downtown Burlington Facebook Page.

Frevert said one of the biggest successes is the building where his office is located: River Park Place. The former hospital now houses the Greater Burlington Partnership, a business development center, several radio stations, a restaurant, and more.

“When I arrived in 2002, its fate was up in the air,” said Frevert. “It’s the first building you see when you cross the bridge, just towering over the city. At that point, the hospital had moved out to West Burlington. They were tearing down the rest of the buildings and this one’s fate was hanging in the balance.”

Frevert said another great example of preservation efforts in downtown Burlington is the First United Methodist Church, which was nearly destroyed by a fire in April 2007.

“To see that ruin brought back to life and become a vital part of the community’s culture again, that is pretty spectacular,” said Frevert.

He’s keeping a close eye on several projects that are underway, including the transformation of a mid-1800’s Greek revival home in the 400 block of North 3rd Street into a restaurant and coffee house.

Frevert said one of the biggest challenges to historic preservation efforts can be a strong economy.

“The demand to tear down historic buildings and replace them with new buildings is really strong in a burgeoning community like downtown Chicago,” said Frevert. “In a community that hasn’t seen rapid increases in growth and population, investment has stagnated, sometimes poverty can be preservation’s best friend.

“While buildings are not maintained the way we would like them to be, there has also not been a cry to replace them with something new.”

Frevert said one of the most important aspects of historic preservation is to not simply save a building without a plan.

“It’s one thing to save a building, but really, to bring it back to life, it needs to be economically stable,” said Frevert. “Otherwise, you are just putting money in a building to restore it and it ends up decaying again because it is not bringing an economically vital use to the community.”

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.