This is a public “thank you” to the community of Jackson, Michigan, where the Michigan Historic Preservation Network (MHPN) presented its 34th Annual Statewide Preservation Conference on Wednesday through Saturday, May 14-17, 2014. Titled “Michigan Places Matter: Discovering How Your Community’s Cultural Resources Can Make Your Placemaking Unique,” Jackson was a great setting for our discussion. Located at the intersection of major Native American trails and later the junction of major railroads, it became a center of industry, culture, and noteworthy architecture that today makes it a “place that matters.” The conference was superb and we had a great time!
With 34 conferences under our belts held in 23 different communities, we can tell you that the conference was a solid success from every perspective – overall turnout, sessions, tours, networking, Twilight Tour, Keynote Address, Awards Ceremony, Saturday Historic District Commissioner Training, and so much more.
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 JTV provided year-long coverage of our development of the program, giving us a chance to attract our audience? Did you see that our participants began arriving on Wednesday before the conference and that some stayed afterwards to “Make it a Jackson Weekend”? On Thursday, did you happen to be looking when our participants spilled out the doors of our conference headquarters – the Commonwealth Commerce Center – to buy lunch downtown, or that on Friday, the MHPN name was up on the marquee of the Michigan Theatre where our annual awards ceremony was held?
A modest estimate of the dollars infused into the local economy by these activities is based on the MHPN’s $16,000 spent directly in town multiplied by three, or $48,000. And that doesn’t account for people who stayed at other that the Country Inn & Suites, our conference hotel, or went out for dinner, shopped, and enjoyed a nightcap.
Beyond dollars spent, the success of the conference was reflected by the number of people who participated. We started Wednesday night with 100 guests gathered at The Ella Sharp for our Annual VIP Reception for local dignitaries, MHPN donors, elected officials, local conference planners, and the MHPN’s leadership and staff. There were 168 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 guided walking tour at twilight, “The Heart of Jackson’s Downtown.” Plenty stayed for the pub crawl that followed!
On Friday, 166 registered for the day’s programming. The day was highlighted by our keynote speaker, Elizabeth Blazevich, Director of the Center for Design and the City at the American Architectural Foundation in Washington, DC. Her presentation – titled “Design and Cultural Heritage: Instilling Value in the Places that Matter” – not only amplified our conference theme but, coming from a professional with strong Midwestern ties, struck familiar chords with the 90 guests gathered in the sanctuary of St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church to hear her. Friday evening was capped off by the 23rd Annual MHPN Awards Reception and Ceremony with131 guests gathered at the Michigan Theatre of Jackson, your absolutely wonderful “Spanish Palace” on Mechanic Street!
When duplicates are removed, we had 348 people participate in conference activities; 66 were from Jackson, or the Jackson area, equaling 19% of the total. How does the total of 348 compare to recent years? Having the 5th largest turnout the MHPN has had to-date, the gathering in Jackson is only surpassed by Flint in 2012 with 389 participants, Marquette in 2013 with 382, Ann Arbor in 2010 with 360, and Dearborn in 2008 with 352. With 31 Michigan counties represented in Jackson – or 37% of the state’s 83 counties – the top five groups of participants registered specifically for our sessions and tours included Wayne County with 53 participants, Ingham and Washtenaw with 46 each, Jackson with 40, and Oakland with 28. Included were participants from all quadrants of the Lower Peninsula as well as from Marquette and Houghton in the U.P. From out-of-state, we had registrants from our Midwest neighbors – Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin – and also from Washington D.C. and Colorado. The MHPN realizes that this audience is still not fully recovered from the recession. Appropriately, we kept registration costs at their 2008 level for yet another year, offered almost a dozen scholarships, and invited volunteers to receive deeply discounted registration in return for their services.
Finally, it is important to note that our educational programming at the conference remained exceptional. An indication of this was that almost every element of the Jackson program was accredited for continuing education credits by the American Institute of Architects, the American Institute of Certified Planners, and the MSU Master Citizen Planner Program. From Mayor Jason Smith’s “Welcome” during which he shared with our participants that “Looking to, and saving, the past is something that our city is committed to, to ensure our continued success into the future;” to sessions with titles as varied as “Claire Allen: A Regional Architect Based in Jackson,” “Reviving an Unusual Building Type: The Prison,” “The Myths and Musts of Working with Your Old House,” “Michigan Modern,” and “The Hidden World of the Archaeological Laboratory;” to tours that explored the churches, parks, and railroad history of Jackson, the intellectual content of the conference remained strong.
All in all, we found the residents of Jackson warm and hospitable and we all were impressed by the visual richness of Jackson’s wonderful downtown, its public and religious buildings, its engaging, walkable residential neighborhoods, and more. We applaud the City’s citizens 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 2014 Conference Co-Manager
(with Co-Manager Elaine Robinson, a proud Jackson resident)
Michigan Historic Preservation Network
Photos courtesy of Amanda Davis Photography, Amara Frontczak, Elaine H. Robinson, and Tibbits Opera House