Triumph for Historic Downtowns

Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski signs Executive Order as (from left to right) National Trust for Historic Preservation Trustee Barbara Sidway, McMinnville Mayor Rick Olson, First Lady Mary Oberst, and Deputy SHPO Roger Roper look on.

On January 13, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski signed an Executive Order that directs state agencies to choose historic downtown areas when planning conventions, meetings, and lodging, and to consider historic buildings for agency offices whenever feasible.  In so doing, the Governor made a strong statement about the importance of Main Street districts to Oregon's economy, cultural identity, and sustainability.

"Historic downtowns reflect the culture and identity of the community and were built to last," said Kulongoski. "Investing in historic downtowns provides jobs and business opportunities and takes advantage of existing resources, reduces congestion, and helps prevent sprawl."

By channeling investment in the state's unique and culturally rich downtowns, the order will not only help preserve historic buildings but also support development in walkable districts that reduce our reliance on cars – a boon for our environment, economy, and quality of life.  

As explained by Sheri Stuart, Oregon Main Street Coordinator, "It's a built-in customer base. It has a synergistic effect. Retaining and reusing these architectural gems increases business activity while preserving the character and heritage of a community."

Oregon joins several other states, including Massachusetts, Maryland, and Indiana, in establishing policies directing state agencies to locate downtown whenever possible. Oregon's order is remarkable for its detailed mandate and explicit statement about the benefits of this policy on environmental sustainability. Last November, Iowa's governor signed a similar Executive Order that is less specific but stipulates that state agencies follow the sustainable design guidelines of the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED standards.

That the Executive Order's language is so encompassing is a testament to the hard work of Barbara Sidway, a trustee for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and owner/operator of the historic Grand Geiser Hotel in Baker City, Oregon. She chaired the subcommittee that worked on drafting the executive order and moving it forward.  The subcommittee included Oregon's First Lady, Mary Oberst; Constance Beaumont; and Roger Roper, the deputy state historic preservation officer.

Historic buildings were built to last. Their age is a testament to their sustainability, and their adaptive use is an excellent example of recycling.

The ordinance's application relies on communication between local leaders and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to identify potential buildings and sites for state agencies' initial consideration.  Thus, Sheri Stuart feels the Executive Order gives local communities, especially smaller ones, an opportunity not only to participate but to be competitive in the decision-making process for locating additional state agency office space.

"Giving downtowns the chance to be competitive in the process is really important," said Stuart.

Roper and Stuart will pass along information provided by local Main Street directors and other city officials about potential sites for state agency buildings, offices, or meetings, with the SHPO acting as a clearinghouse for information on potential sites within historic districts.

 "When we re-use historic buildings, we preserve their landmark qualities for the next generation. Historic buildings are non-renewable resources that should be conserved just as passionately as our natural resources," said Governor Kulongoski.