Herald Journal - Enterprise Dispatch - Delano Herald Journal
Renovating historic buildings stimulates tourism

Feb. 2, 2009

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

DASSEL, MN – Historic preservation is another opportunity available for small towns like Dassel to boost economic development.

Not only does it create jobs, but it gives a competitive edge to a community when the town has something unique, compared to other towns, according to Erin Hanafin Berg.

She is a field representative from the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota in Partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Berg told a gathering of city officials and community activists Tuesday how, during an economic downturn, tourists prefer traveling to sites that are nearby.

The presentation was in the renovated Universal Laboratories building in Dassel. Ann and Jerry Bollman, Dassel Area Historical Society board chairman, served a soup and salad luncheon to the group.

Berg described two kinds of historic preservation, heritage and Main Street. Both attract tourists and create new jobs and businesses, she said.

Renovation is labor intensive, so most of the money invested in a preservation project goes to the people who do the work, not in materials. A sheet of drywall, for example, wouldn’t go to a barber after work and pay for a haircut and add a tip, as a person might, she said.

Nationally, tourism is a $600 million per year industry in the United States. As the Baby Boomers have aged, the “adult travelers,” who spend the most money, increased to 65 percent from 61 percent, Berg said.

Also, the average “heritage” tourist spends $615 per trip, compared to $425 per non-heritage trip, she said.

The Dassel-Cokato community is near St. Cloud and the Twin Cities, which makes it an easy day trip, Berg pointed out.

“Preservation is not antithetical to development. It is redevelopment,” she said.

Not only does it add to the tax base, but an attitude of “keeping up with the Joneses” develops in the others around the property, she said.

Dassel has a good start. In addition to the historical Universal Laboratories building, Dassel also has an active art scene, and Saints Field has an “old-timey feel to it,” she said.

Driving around Dassel, Berg said she noticed several Cape Cod-style houses in the northwest corner of town. They were built shortly after World War II, and are good candidates for preservation, she said.

Property owners can tell if their properties have possibilities by looking at the style of building. Bungalows, for example, were built between 1910 and 1930. Victorian-style homes were built between 1890 and 1910.

Renovating buildings is a “green” industry, Berg added. Buildings constructed before 1950 were made of denser materials. They tend to be drafty, but that can be corrected with caulk and weather-stripping, she said.

Preserving and renovating historic buildings is the ultimate recycling. It often wastes energy and materials to demolish the old and build new, Berg said.

Buildings don’t need to be returned to their original purpose, either. Berg pointed out the Chateau Theater in Rochester was renovated into a Barnes and Nobles store.

The Main Street program, when it was sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Tourism until 1980, created 77,800 new businesses and 349,000 new jobs. The preservation alliance is planning to start the Main Street program again in 2010. Preservation alliance officials are hoping it will include a tax credit from the state.

Berg described several grants and tax-incentive packages available, including the Hart Family Fund for Small Towns. It is specifically for towns with populations under 5,000, and provides $5,000 to $10,000 matching grants for planning and studies of historical preservation.


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