Historic preservation key to Warren’s economy

To the editor:
When one brings up the subject of historic preservation in Warren, there are some who get excited and some who have a negative reaction. The discussion can quickly descend into stereotypes, which are unfair to real exploration of pros and cons of the issue. Some may feel it is only those who live downtown who actively support preserving Warren’s historic buildings and those who live out of downtown that don’t. Some may feel that it is only those who have moved to town recently who care about this and those who are from Warren who don’t. Some may feel that historic preservation only means telling someone else what to do with their property. In reality, all of these stereotypes are untrue.
There are plenty of people who don’t live downtown, or who are long-time residents of Warren, that want to see our historic buildings restored, for any number of reasons. There are also plenty of people who live downtown, or who have moved here recently, who may not support historic preservation. And the millions of dollars that have been invested in preserving many of Warren’s historic buildings over many decades have had nothing to do with anyone telling anyone else what to do with their property.
As with so many other issues, historic preservation is rarely a black and white matter, but rather usually involves 100 shades of gray. It may involve the history of a building or a place. It may involve the architect who designed a building or the people who lived in a building at one time. It may involve the rareness of the style or the past or proposed use of a building. It may involve the physical condition of a building or the financial situation of the owners of a building. It may involve grants, loans, tax credits or community fundraising for preserving a building or a place.
As the annual Rhode Island Historic Preservation Conference comes to Warren this Saturday, let us all take a step back and try not to stereotype what historic preservation means to Warren. The modern movement to preserve Warren’s historic buildings began 40 years ago as America’s Bicentennial approached. Local efforts, to document all historic buildings and places throughout Warren, to buy and restore the Maxwell House, to restore the George Hail Library, and many other projects, instilled a pride of place that many felt was in decline at the time. To this day, millions of dollars are being invested in preserving Warren’s historic buildings and places, including hundreds of acres of historic farmlands with state and federal grants.
Many of the largest redevelopment projects happening in Warren today involve restoring historic buildings. From American Tourister restoring the Warren Manufacturing mill complex with private funds and historic tax credits, to Hope & Main restoring the Main Street School with a loan from the US Department of Agriculture, to 2nd Story Theater restoring the French Club and the Liberty Street School with ticket sales and grants, to the Warren Armory being restored with community fundraising and grants, to the Cutler Mills complex filled with 50 businesses, to the Baptist, Methodist and Episcopal churches being restored with private and community funds, to Main Street, Water Street and the waterfront, it could be argued that historic preservation is the primary economic development driver in Warren today.
Davison Bolster
State Street

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