The Rebirth of Upper Canal Street

Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services with Alberta Culture’s Historic Resources Management Branch, is live-blogging from the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Annual Main Street Conference. The conference is attended by leaders from hundreds of historic main street communities across North America.

2013 Main Street Conference

Tuesday was the last full day of the formal conference, while Wednesday features a number of post-conference tours to various Main Street communities. I, however, will be travelling back to Edmonton on Wednesday, via Houston and Calgary. Seeing as I would miss the extended tours, I signed up to participate in a mobile workshop called “The Rebirth of Upper Canal Street,” which showcased the renewal of this 18th and 19th century neighbourhood which had endured decades of decline. Now, two distinct districts are emerging along Upper Canal, one with historic theatres, focusing on entertainment, and another focused on biomedical research and development.

New Orleans Civil Rights Heritage: Can it be Conserved?

Canal Street Streetcar
Canal Street Streetcar

A group of about 20 of us hopped on one of the great streetcars that continually traverse Canal Street, the major thoroughfare through downtown New Orleans. Our guide, the Director of the Downtown Development District of New Orleans, pointed out numerous places of interest within this complex environment. One such building was a now-empty Woolworth’s store, which we learned had been the epicentre of the early Civil Rights movement in Louisiana; this Woolworth’s lunch counter was one of the first to be de-segregated in the 1950s. Now, however, the building lays vacant, and is currently slated for demolition.

A Historic Entertainment District – Renaissance

Across LaSalle Street from Woolworth’s stands the early 20th century Saenger Theater. Damaged extensively during Katrina, but also ailing for some time before that, the theatre was in urgent need of a multi-million dollar rehabilitation if it was to have a future. Through application of historic tax-credit support, in addition to a comprehensive business plan for sustainability, that project is now well under way. I took a picture of the sign to indicate the number of partners – both public and private sector – involved in this massive endeavour. In approximately two years time, this once-great movie palace will again become a centre for performing arts in New Orleans, and will anchor future development on Upper Canal.

Joy Theatre, Upper Canal Street, New Orleans
Joy Theatre, Upper Canal Street, New Orleans

Across the Street from the Saenger Theatre is the Joy Theater, a 1940s Art Deco gem, now restored to its period of significance. The Joy has already become a popular centre for performing arts and is driving the district as an entertainment hot spot. To my eye, it also bears some resemblance to Alberta’s Garneau Theatre , a Municipal Historic Resource, located in Edmonton.

New Technologies and Bio-Innovation

On the next block up from the theatres, several older buildings have been re-purposed for use as medical and scientific research facilities, and new infill, including a multimillion dollar, highly advance centre for “Bio-Innovation,” has been developed. The Upper Canal area will also become home to a new Veteran’s Administration hospital, a 2 billion dollar initiative, replacing an existing hospital devastated by Katrina.

The tour concluded with discussion about the ingenuity and collaboration required to facilitate these projects. It was intriguing to see an area like Upper Canal – very much a work in progress – and to anticipated the future results of the work being undertaken today.

I’ll conclude my live-blogging from the Conference with one more post on the final plenary session. Stay tuned!

Monday Main Street Conference Update

Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services with Alberta Culture’s Historic Resources Management Branch, is live-blogging from the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Annual Main Street Conference. The conference is attended by leaders from hundreds of historic main street communities across North America.

2013 Main Street Conference

Monday’s conference sessions offered rich content from professionals seasoned in Main Street leadership in various contexts. I attended three:

  •  “Creative Collaboration Efforts Between Main Streets and Municipalities”
  •  “Font of Information: Successful Graphic Communication for Main Streets”
  •  “Authenticity as Economic Catalyst”

Each presentation inspired my enthusiasm and got me thinking on a deeper level. While I could write a lot about each of them (and did take copious notes – it was good stuff!), for this post, please allow me to just summarize a few of my ‘take-aways,” from the first session.

The focus was on collaboration between Main Street Organizations and local governments, which is 100% applicable to the kind of work we do in Alberta, with MHPP and our Alberta Main Street Program. The presenters, which included the Mayor of Washington, Missouri, a city manager, and a State Main Street Program administrator with over 20 years experience, provided some really practical case studies from their work in Missouri.

John Simmons described the 16 year process he went through to conserve a “Richardsonian Romanesque” bank building in downtown Sedalia, Missouri. Built in 1888, the building had changed hands numerous times, and had suffered a major fire in the 1990s, leaving it roofless for two years.

Missouri Trust Building in Sedalia, Missouri
Missouri Trust Building in Sedalia, Missouri

John candidly described the efforts – including some failed partnerships in the past – that took place before the timing was right to make the conservation achievable. Even now, while considerable work has been done, the actual project is only beginning. John promised an update in two years on the “Missouri Trust Building.” Even though the story is still unfolding, it was a testimony to the tenacity required, sometimes over many years, for a community to achieve its goals of revitalization and heritage conservation. We’ve seen similar challenges with significant historic places in Alberta, and I can think of a few other major projects that may involve these same ingredients – partnerships, creativity, and commitment – if they are to garner both conservation and business success. Not all heritage conservation projects become success stories, but the key message from this session was that greater viability and sustainability is often achieved through partnerships.

After Monday afternoon’s two other excellent sessions, we had the evening free to explore the city a little. Here is a lagniappe of my photos from the remarkable French Quarter, steeped in history with a deep connection to Canada (well, pre-Confederation New France). Enjoy!

Main Street Conference – Opening Keynote

Matthew Francis, Manager of Municipal Heritage Services with Alberta Culture’s Historic Resources Management Branch, is live-blogging from the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Annual Main Street Conference. The conference is attended by leaders from hundreds of historic main street communities across North America.

Sunday Afternoon / Evening

After a flight delay in Denver, I arrived in New Orleans just in time to arrive at the Conference’s opening plenary session. This event is always an enthusiastic kick-off to the conference, which (in addition to being educational) has the feel of a mega pep-rally. Each coordinating program brings in its delegation and waves placards announcing the place they are from. For instance, the delegation of Main Street communities from Wyoming was almost a hundred strong on its own! Clad in matching purple T-shirts, the Wyomingians proudly announce that they represent “the Wild West” in New Orleans.

Some purple-shirted Wyoming Main Street leaders, listening to the keynote presentation.
Some purple-shirted Wyoming Main Street leaders, listening to the keynote presentation.
Jeff Speck, keynote speaker for opening plenary
Jeff Speck, keynote speaker for opening plenary

The opening keynote presentation was given by Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, and described some of the benefits of looking at revitalization of downtown areas from a pedestrian perspective. (I’m pretty sure these princiles apply in Canada too). Walking is healthy, sociable, and environmentally friendly. It was an enlightening presentation. To increase walkability in our cities and towns, Jeff described how there needs to be:

  • A reason to walk
  • A safe walk
  • A comfortable walk
  • An interesting walk

So many factors go into increasing the walkability of our communities, but it is definitely worth taking a good look at becoming more walkable.

After the keynote, three communities were awarded the honour of “Great American Main Streets.”

I will devote another post to saying more about these unique communities, and what we in Alberta could perhaps learn from them. In the meantime, here is a photo of some of our fellow Canadians at the Conference in New Orleans.

Some members of the "Canada" delegation at the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation's National Main Street Conference
Some members of the “Canada” delegation – from Ontario and Saskatchewan – at the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation’s National Main Street Conference

Alberta’s Historic Places in New Orleans?!

2013 Main Street Conference

Yes, you read it right.

For the next few days, RETROactive (well, me, Matthew Francis) will be down in New Orleans representing Alberta at the U.S. National Trust Main Street Conference. This annual gathering brings together leaders from hundreds of historic communities from across North America, as well as representatives from State and Provincial coordinating programs. In addition to Alberta, Canadians from Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan will also be in attendance. This is an incredible opportunity to learn from the stories of revitalization through heritage conservation. In particular, we’ll be seeing first-hand how New Orleans’ cultural economy has contributed to the city’s post-Katrina recovery. In between sessions, I’ll try to provide some real-time highlights from this excellent learning event. This knowledge will then be brought back to Alberta, to benefit the communities in our Alberta Main Street Program. Current members of the program’s network are:

  • Downtown Lethbridge
  • Wainwright
  • Uptowne Olds

Creating a Future for Alberta’s Historic Main Streets

Training in the Four-Point Approach®

Attendees at the AMSP Training Session

Twenty-five participants representing accredited Alberta Main Street Program communities from across Alberta gathered at Lougheed House in Calgary on June 25th and 26th for essential training in the Four-Point Approach® – Design, Organization, Marketing, and Economic Development.

Wainwright, Uptowne Olds and Downtown Lethbridge are currently accredited as Main Street communities, meaning they have completed Municipal Heritage Inventory evaluations to assess their local heritage values and places, and have also committed themselves to the Alberta Main Street Program’s Standards of Performance on an ongoing basis.

Participants listening to tour guide Murray Ledarney during our walk through Inglewood.

We were especially pleased to have Todd Barman, Program Advisor for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, come up from the U.S. to tell us more about Economic Restructuring for Main Street. While we did lots of learning, we also had some “hands on” educational opportunities, with a tour of historic Inglewood on Monday evening.

Members of the Alberta Main Street Program participate in an active network with other communities looking to help their historic commercial areas to thrive. The program provides training, coordination, and also project-based grants, available to member communities, on a project-basis.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Alberta Main Street Program can feel free to contact me, Matthew Francis, anytime.

Written by: Matthew Francis, Manager, Municipal Heritage Services

Tipping our Hats to the Town of Olds

On Thursday January 26th Matthew Francis and I were privileged to attend the Top Hat Ceremony in the Town of Olds. Hosted by Uptowne Olds, the Top Hat Ceremony honored the nine Municipal Historic Resources designated by the Town of Olds, to date. Search the Alberta Register of Historic Places to learn more about these sites. (Four of the sites are listed so far and the Town is working on the documentation to list the rest).

The crowd in Olds was buzzing with excitement and the ceremony was great fun. I can honestly say it was the only event I’ve attended (so far) that began with a proclamation read by a town crier. Each property owner was given a plaque in recognition of their stewardship of one of the town’s historic resources.

Matthew Francis had the pleasure of announcing that Olds has been accredited as an Alberta Main Street Community for 2011. Olds is only the third municipality to be accredited since the Alberta Main Street Program was re-launched in 2008. Accredited means that Olds has met the ten standards of performance needed to fully participate in and benefit from the Alberta Main Street Program.

The Alberta Main Street Program helps municipalities conserve and market their historic commercial districts. Expect to hear more about this exciting aspect of our work over the next year.

Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer