Thank You Flint!

This is a public “thank you” to the community of Flint for hosting the Michigan Historic Preservation Network’s (MHPN) 32nd annual statewide preservation conference – “Model Change-Over” – on May 9-12, 2012.  The conference was superb and we had a great time! 

Dear Residents of Flint,

With over thirty conferences under our belts held in twenty-one different communities, we can tell you that the conference as a solid success from almost every perspective – overall turnout, sessions, tours, networking, Twilight Tour, Keynote Address, Awards Ceremony, Saturday Historic District Commissioner Training, and so much more.

Masonic Temple. Photo by Aimee D’Agostini

While the conference is the largest educational gathering for Michigan preservationists each year, let’s talk first about the economics of the conference.  Did you notice that our participants began arriving on Wednesday before the conference began and that some stayed afterwards to “Make it a Flint Weekend”?  That on Thursday, participants spilled out the doors of our conference headquarters – the wonderful Flint Masonic Temple – to buy lunch downtown?   That the local news station covered our tour groups out on the streets looking at Flint’s historic churches, its downtown buildings at twilight, its

Churches Tour walks to the Court Street Methodist Church.
Photo by Kim Long.

Mid-Century Modern treasures, and its Automobile Heritage river route?  A modest estimate of the dollars infused into the local economy is based on the MHPN’s $15,000 spent directly in town multiplied by three, or $45,000.  And that doesn’t fully account for people who went out for dinner, shopped, or stayed the weekend.

Beyond dollars spent, the success of the conference was reflected by the number of people who participated.  We started Wednesday night with almost 100 guests gathered at one of Flint’s historic mansions in Woodcroft Estates for our VIP Reception for dignitaries, donors, local conference planners, and MHPN leaders.  There were 145 enthusiastic conference-goers registered for Thursday’s programming during the day and the early evening’s Vendors’ Showcase, with over 30 of them taking the “Bricks, Bridges, and Buildings” guided walking tour of the downtown area at twilight.

Stained Glass, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Photo by Kim Long.

On Friday, 165 registered for the day’s programming.  The day was highlighted by Terry Schwarz, Director of the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative at Kent State University, who drew over 115 guests to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church for her keynote address.  Her presentation titled “Historic Preservation and Urban Regeneration” focused on the challenges older industrial communities face as their populations thin and they have to decide how best to continue using, adaptively re-use, or creatively mothball the historic resources important to them.   Friday evening was stunningly capped off by the Annual MHPN Awards Reception and Ceremony with150 guests gathered at the restored Durant Hotel.

When duplicates are removed, we had 355 people participate in conference activities.  How

Thursday’s Silent Auction Drew Numerous Bids.   Photo by Denise McGeen.

does this compare to recent years?   We had just over 335 people last year in Saugatuck-Douglas.  We are delighted that Flint compared favorably with Ann Arbor’s 360 guests in 2010, our 30th anniversary.  But why no growth?  The economic picture remains bleak for many.  Architects don’t have projects, city planners no longer have educational budgets, and teachers and students and young professionals continue to feel the pinch.  To put these last three conferences in perspective, all were down 25-30% from Grand Rapids in 2009 and Dearborn in 2008 when the downturn had not yet hit.  Appropriately, the MHPN has kept registration at its 2008 level, offers almost a dozen scholarships, and invites volunteers to receive deeply discounted registration in return for their services.

Mayor Dayne Walling Welcomed Conference  Attendees to Flint. Photo by Aimee D’Agostini.

Finally, it is important to note that ever since the local planning group in Ann Arbor anchored program development on a Call for Abstracts, we have had ever-better educational content.  An indication of this was that every element of the program was accredited for continuing education credits by the American Institute of Architects and the American Institute of Certified Planners/Michigan Association of Planning.  From Mayor Dayne Walling’s Welcome during which he revealed how his eyes have been opened to the extraordinary wealth of Mid-Century Modern buildings in Flint; to sessions with names like “Myth busting,” “Embattled landscapes,” and “What are you getting into? How to assess whether this is the right historic building for you;” to off-site workshops at the Charles Stewart and Ruth Rawlings Mott Estate “Applewood” and at the Stockton House at Spring Grove, the intellectual content of the conference remains consistently strong.

Are we a big conference?  At 350-400 participants, no we aren’t.  But we are the kind of

Flint’s Own, David White, Honored with Lifetime Achievement Award at MHPN Awards Celebration.      Photo by Matt Pacquin.

conference that we hope Flint hosts in the future.  Not only did we find the people warm and welcoming, but we were – to a one – impressed by the visual richness of Flint’s downtown, riverfront, residential neighborhoods, and more.  We applaud the City’s residents and leaders for working to keep this exceptional building stock intact and vital for the entire state to enjoy.

You can bet we are singing your praises and will return soon!

Janet L. Kreger
A Founder of the MHPN, Immediate Past President, and 2012 Conference Manager
Michigan Historic Preservation Network
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