Iowa historic preservation praised as economic development generators

Summit being held in Cedar Rapids through Saturday

By James Q. Lynch, The Gazette

CEDAR RAPIDS — The 86-year-old Paramount Theatre, which was devastated by flooding in 2008, was cited Thursday at the Preserve Iowa Summit as an example of the community, cultural and economic synergy that can be achieved through historic preservation efforts.

Iowa, according to Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, is at forefront of utilizing historic preservation and adaptive reuse.

“A great example of this is the restoration of the beautiful Paramount Theatre where you are sitting right now,” she said at the summit in downtown Cedar Rapids. “Devastated after the flood, it is again the center of entertainment and cultural activity in downtown Cedar Rapids.”

“Cedar Rapids truly is an inspiration for communities all across the state, for their perseverance and dedication not only to rebuild your community, but to take it to a better place,” added Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds.

She went on to praise about 300 professionals and volunteers involved in historic preservation and historic commercial district revitalization attending the conference that continues through Saturday.

“So many times these places still exist only because of people just like you — advocates who are willing to stand up, take action, ask the tough questions and, in most cases, willing to take the risk necessary to rehabilitate those spaces and places,” Reynolds said.

Citing examples in Cedar Rapids’ Czech Village and New Bohemia district, and Uptown Marion, Durham said “trends are shifting toward those cool places, spaces, and experiences that can only be provided through Iowa’s historic resources.”

The Paramount represents the human and economic sides of historic preservation, Reynolds and Cedar Rapids City Councilwoman Monica Vernon said.

“I think of old buildings like this in a very human way,” said Vernon, who is the Democratic lieutenant governor candidate. Preservation is “really memories and pride. We’re preserving those memories for people who came before us and will come after us.”

It’s also increasingly about economic development, Reynolds said.

“These preservation and place-making efforts are quickly becoming the foundation for local quality of life and economic development efforts,” she said. “Our downtown and historic commercial districts become community centers for tourism, places for business incubation.

They are examples of using the infrastructure investment that already exists, Reynolds said.

“Historic preservation and place-making can be our communities’ economic generators. We need to put ourselves in the position to take advantage of those opportunities,” she said.

According to Durham:

l Since 2009, the Economic Development Authority’s Community Development Block Grant Downtown Revitalization Program has awarded grants of $17.7 million to 37 communities, impacting nearly 700 downtown buildings and leveraging more than $14 million dollars in local investment;

l In 28 years Main Street Iowa has invested more than $1.4 billion into more than 13,000 Main Street buildings;

l Since 2002, Main Street Iowa has administered nearly $20 million of state and federal bricks and mortar grants that have leveraged more than $90 million locally.

l The Authority’s reinvestment efforts also have spurred the development of more than 600 new housing units created in historic and rehabilitated buildings all across Iowa, many on upper floors of downtown spaces.

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