Historic preservation conference expected to draw hundreds to Westerly, Charlestown

Historic preservation conference expected to draw hundreds to Westerly, Charlestown

The Westerly Sun

WESTERLY — More than 500 people will descend upon Westerly and Charlestown later this month to join walking tours through neighborhoods from the North End to Watch Hill, take boat trips up the Pawcatuck and make visits to iconic local spots from the Westerly Library and Wilcox Park to Quononchontaug and Ninigret Park.

The 32nd annual Rhode Island Statewide Preservation Conference, organized by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission, will be held here on April 29, with a focus on “The Economics of Historic Preservation.”

Donovan D. Rypkema, of PlaceEconomics, a Washington, D.C.-based real estate and economic development consulting firm, will be the keynote speaker for the daylong conference, which opens at the Watch Hill Chapel with greetings from state Senate Minority Leader Dennis L. Algiere, Watch Hill Chapel Society President Edith Eglin, Deborah Royce from the Ocean House, Valerie Talmage from Preserve Rhode Island, Maia Farish from Roger Williams University, and Edward F. Sanderson, executive director of the Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission.

Rypkema, who has been involved with assignments involving the economics of historic preservation in the private and public sectors for clients throughout the United States for the last 30 years, said his research consistently shows that maintaining historic districts is a healthy investment for cities and towns.

In study after study, Rypkema said, his firm has found that preservation has a significant impact on property values, job creation, tourism revenues and downtown revitalization.

“There is also a huge difference in foreclosure patterns,” said Rypkema, who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania and has written several books about preservation, including “The Economics of Historic Preservation: A Community Leader’s Guide.” The book is widely used by preservationists nationwide and has been translated into Russian and Korean.

Although he calls himself “a numbers guy,” Rypkema said he is fascinated by the “human side” of places — the economic differences in towns and cities where people can connect with one another.

Sarah Zurier, who oversees special projects for the state’s preservation and heritage commission, said Preserve Rhode Island and the Preservation Society of Newport County recently commissioned PlaceEconomics to conduct a study on the economic impacts of historic preservation in Rhode Island.

The April 29 conference will serve as a kickoff for the study, which will analyze the “broad range of ways that the preservation of historic buildings benefits Rhode Island — from rehabilitation of historic mills to the preservation of historic sites and significant government buildings,” Zurier said.

The conference will feature 28 different break-out sessions and tours, Zurier said, including a walking tour to the Watch Hill Lighthouse with Ann Snowden Johnson, president of the Watch Hill Lighthouse Keepers Association, and a visit to the Charles Moore-designed Klotz House, described as “probably the single most important modernist house built in Rhode Island during the 1960s.”

“The Big Picture Tour” offers a bus ride throughout downtown Westerly led by Algiere; the United Theatre’s Simon Holt; the Westerly Land Trust’s Kelly Presley; Thomas J. Liguori, house counsel for the Cherenzia Companies; and Daniel King, the executive director of the Royce Family Fund. The tour will take a look at the “new construction and historic rehabilitation transforming and revitalizing Downtown Westerly ... from Savoy Bookshop in the former Savoy Hotel (1888) and the Westerly Education Center (2017), where students train to build submarines, to the old favorites coming back to life ... The Knickerbocker Music Center (1933) and the United Theatre (1926).”

A Pawcatuck River boat ride will take conference attendees on a cruise with architectural historian Joanna Doherty and Harvey Perry III, who will discuss the water and land uses over the years — from shipbuilding and farming to recreation and fishing — on the river that also serves as a border between Connecticut and Rhode Island. A second boat tour will be led by Chris Kepple of the Stonington Historical Society and Dave Prescott, the South County coastkeeper for Save the Bay.

In the “The North Side of the Tracks,” community planner Blanche Higgins will join Jason Mancini, the director of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center, and Chris White, a board member of Greater North End Community Development, on a bus tour of “the mill villages of Stillmansville and White Rock; a 150-year old African-American and Narragansett Indian church; the Jonnycake Center; new parks; and the area’s signature granite masonry built by Italian and Narragansett Indian craftsmen. Lunch will be served in the Tap Room of Grey Sail Brewing of Rhode Island — next to the old Westerly Macaroni Factory (1929) where Grey Sail is brewed.”

Zurier said all the tours will focus on preservation efforts and challenges in Watch Hill, Charlestown and downtown Westerly and will examine “the important role of the cultural sector in the state economy, and how historic religious institutions contribute to local economies.”

In Charlestown, Ann Doyle, the archivist for the Quononchontaug Historical Society, and Pam Lyons, the president of the Charlestown Historical Society, will lead a bus tour to Fort Ninigret and the village of Cross Mills.

“I’m excited about the conference,” Algiere said. “Our state is filled with so many pockets of historical and architectural significance ... it’s great they chose us.”

“The restoration of so many of our buildings shows how historic preservation goes hand in hand with economic development,” Algiere said.

Additional workshops will take on architecture and furniture, climate change and coastal landscapes, and historic parks.

The last time such a conference was held in Westerly was in 2002, Zurier said, when the 17th annual conference drew roughly 300 people to town.

Local residents are encouraged to attend, Zurier said.

Online registration is sold out, but there will be a limited number of walk-on tickets for sale at the Watch Hill Chapel on the day of the conference. The registration fee is $50, which includes morning coffee, lunch and a closing reception at One Bay Street, the recently restored Lanphear Livery. For more information, please visit preservationconferenceri.com.



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