Success of Westerly historic preservation projects impresses R.I. conference

Success of Westerly historic preservation projects impresses R.I. conference

The Westerly Sun

WESTERLY — Donovan D. Rypkema has spent the last quarter century visiting and studying sites and towns across the country and around the globe — from Savannah, Georgia, to Quito, Ecuador, to Salt Lake City, Utah.

But on this April weekend in Westerly, Rypkema — whose research has demonstrated the significant economic impact of historic preservation on property values, job creation, tourism revenues and downtown revitalization — hit an unusual milestone. Westerly, he told the more than 500 people gathered inside the Watch Hill Chapel Saturday morning, is just about the “coolest historic place I’ve ever seen.”

Rypkema, a Washington, D.C.-based consultant, was the keynote speaker at the 32nd annual Rhode Island Statewide Historic Preservation Conference, which took place at various locations Saturday throughout Westerly and Charlestown and offered conference-goers the opportunity to hear from the state’s experts in historic preservation and economic development. Breakout sessions included walking tours of the Watch Hill Lighthouse and Napatree Point, guided bus tours to Quonochontaug and downtown Westerly, and boat tours up the Pawcatuck.

The opening session included remarks from Rypkema, and greetings from state Senate Minority Leader Dennis L. Algiere; Watch Hill Chapel Society President Edith Eglin; Ocean House owner/founder and former film executive Deborah Royce; Preserve Rhode Island Executive Director Valerie Talmage; Edward Sanderson, executive director of the Rhode Island Historic Preservation and Heritage Commission; and Brett Smiley, chief of staff for Gov. Gina Raimondo.

Westerly, Algiere said, is a “stunning tribute” to the benefits of historic preservation. From the preservation of the train station, to the rebuilding of Ocean House and the maintenance of Westerly Memorial Library and Wilcox Park, examples abound of the area’s past, which also serve as “economic generators,” the senator said.

Royce said, “We all work together very closely to create a sense of community. That is first and foremost.”

Talmage, whose organization is the statewide advocate for historic places, has teamed up with the Preservation Society of Newport County to engage Rypkema in a study of “the role of historic preservation as an economic and community development tool which can support Rhode Island’s growth statewide.” She urged attendees to “conjure up some images of Rhode Island.”

“Imagine the places where you live, you work and you play. Reflect upon your favorite spot to take a walk, to bring out-of-town guests,” she said. “Every one of Rhode Island’s 39 cities and town has its own sense of place.”

While there are many reasons to save historic places, Talmage said, “our distinct sense of place tops that list.”

During a breakout session called “Big Picture: Historic Preservation and Economic Development,” Sanderson spoke of the economic boost being experienced in Westerly thanks to the many projects of Chuck and Deborah Royce — “From Ocean House to the Weekapaug Inn to the United Theatre and the Savoy to the Westerly Education Center ... and probably other properties I haven’t even heard of.”

Royce, who said the first project she and her husband worked on together was the restoration of the popular Avon Theatre in Stamford, Conn., explained that all of their projects — in Westerly, in Stamford, and in Tannersville, N.Y., have a community focus.

“I think meeting with people is a huge component,” said Royce, who described their Westerly projects, including Avondale Farm, the Perry Homestead on Margin Street, and the United Theatre.

“I’d like to clone the Royces,” said Trudy Cose, CEO of the Preservation Society of Newport County.

Margot Nishimura, a deputy director at the Newport Restoration Foundation, said the conference was “impressive.”

“For such a small state,” she said, “there’s an amazing number of people interested in historic preservation.”


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