BY KATIE MATTESON
As the community prepares to jettison to the future world of WisConn Valley, the Racine Landmarks Preservation Committee is putting the finishing touches on the Racine Heritage Preservation Plan.
The City Council is expected to consider adoption of the plan in December, according to Matthew Sadowski, Assistant Director/Principal Planner for the Department of City Development, who welcomed attendees to a community meeting about the plan on Friday, Oct. 5 in the community room at the Arcade Apartments..
Sadowski explained that the new plan, developed over the past year during a series of commission meetings, community meetings, stakeholder interviews, online surveys and field work, will replace the original 1979 Architectural and Historical Survey of the City of Racine.
Associate Principal Nick Kalogeresis from The Lakota Group, the consulting firm from Chicago hired to oversee the plan development, provided highlights to the 122-page plan at the community meeting, but encouraged those interested to read the plan draft online at thelakotagroup.com/projects/racine-heritage-preservation/
The plan begins with the following vision statement that summarizes the Racine community’s aspirations regarding its future historic preservation program:
“In 2028, Racine, Wisconsin is one of Midwestern America’s most vibrant places ― a city known for its vital downtown, neighborhood commercial districts, traditional neighborhoods, and its rich historic and architectural legacy. The Racine community has preserved that legacy through the careful planning and stewardship of the community’s significant historic resources, and by engaging and educating residents and local stakeholders on preservation’s benefits. In turn, such efforts have enhanced property values, adapted historic commercial and industrial buildings to new uses, enhanced the visual quality and character of Racine’s older neighborhoods, and promoted the increased appreciation of Racine’s diverse heritage, from its Victorian-era downtown and residential buildings to the advent of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School, to the neighborhoods where Racine’s middle-class and ethnic groups settled and prospered. The City of Racine and private-sector partners maintain ongoing, meaningful involvement and participation in the community heritage preservation program through important preservation planning initiatives.”
In addition to the vision statement, the plan continues with a series of value statements describing the Racine community’s core preservation beliefs. These core beliefs were determined through local stakeholder engagement and feedback regarding key preservation concerns, priorities and aspirations.
Value Statement #1: Racine builds on its heritage preservation successes. Racine has a remarkably intact historic building fabric ― relatively few historic resources in downtown Racine and the surrounding older neighborhoods have been lost to neglect, demolition and wholesale urban renewal as has been experienced in other communities. Racine was also an early and eager participant in the historic preservation movement during the 1970s and 1980s when several districts and landmarks were nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. In more recent times, the community has pursued and encouraged several successful preservation-based economic development initiatives, including the rehabilitation and adaptation of historic industrial buildings for new commercial and residential uses. The community will continue to document its important historic resources, designate new districts and landmarks, and find and implement innovative ways and means in which heritage preservation will contribute to Racine’s sense of place and long-term economic well-being.
Value Statement #2: Racine’s heritage resources are tangible links to the community’s history. Racine’s historical and architectural heritage is inexorably linked to its past ― its maritime beginnings, its industrial landscapes and intact downtown core, its diverse residential building types, its distinguishing religious and civic buildings, and its historic parks and open spaces. Historic resources are reminders of the past ― “memory places” ― that bind residents to their neighborhoods and physical environments and provide a deeper cultural understanding of the community. Historic buildings, sites and places also provide the opportunities to tell stories of Racine’s rich history, even the stories that have yet to be told, including Racine’s various ethnic and racial groups.
Value Statement #3: Enhancing institutional partnerships promotes community involvement in heritage preservation activities. Apart from the City’s Landmarks Commission, Racine is fortunate to have an existing institutional framework for advancing heritage preservation with the Racine Heritage Museum, Preservation Racine, and the Downtown Racine Corporation as key education and advocacy partners. Other preservation partners include the many community organizations, merchants’ associations, and business improvement districts working to improve and revitalize Racine’s established neighborhoods and traditional commercial areas. Racine stakeholders believe these institutions should be supported and nurtured in their capacity to implement, collaborate and manage various preservation and community revitalization initiatives. Vibrant preservation institutions also reflect increased participation by Racine stakeholders in the local preservation movement.
Value Statement #4: Effective municipal leadership leads to positive preservation outcomes. Strong leadership from elected officials and municipal staff on preservation issues is critically important for realizing preservation’s potential for enhancing community quality of life. In addition, the stewardship and implementation of preservation policies, initiatives and partnerships are dependent upon an effective Historic Preservation Ordinance and an engaged Landmarks Preservation Commission. The City of Racine is committed to maintaining and building a municipal historic preservation program that participates in efforts that protect Racine’s valuable architecture and historic places and promotes a higher awareness of preservation’s benefits.
Value Statement #5: Heritage preservation promotes Racine as a community of choice. The pending Foxconn industrial development in Racine County has the potential to impact the City of Racine in both positive and negative ways: an influx of new people and capital into the community could provide housing opportunities in historic neighborhoods or the means to undertake new adaptive use projects; it could also lead to development pressures and the loss of historic resources in and around Racine’s historic areas. While the future is unclear, Racine will position itself to be a community of choice in the region for working and living using heritage preservation as the method for achieving working and living environments.
The key preservation planning recommendations included in the Heritage Preservation Plan were summarized in its Executive Summary:
Survey and Documentation. Survey and documentation activities involve the identification of architecturally and historically significant resources ― buildings, districts and neighborhoods, sites, parks, bridges and monuments, for example ― and the evaluation for eligibility as landmarks and historic districts. An effective community historic preservation program should maintain an on-going program of survey and documentation as buildings and sites that were once not considered significant in the past, may have achieved architectural or historical significance due to the passage of time. Going forward, future survey and documentation initiatives should focus on residential areas that have not been subject to previous documentation, especially in post-World War II neighborhoods, and in the early National Register Historic Districts ― Southside and Historic Sixth and Old Main Street districts, established in the 1970s and 80s ― where updated inventories would provide a more complete picture of what resources have retained integrity and contribute to the significance of the districts. Apart from these activities, there is a strong community interest in capturing and commemorating the stories of the many ethnic and racial groups that worked in Racine’s industries and settled in the many neighborhood’s surrounding the downtown. While many buildings associated with Racine’s ethnic heritage have been documented and designated as landmarks over the decades, future surveys, research and oral history initiatives could provide more information on other significant historic resources and places deserving of recognition and preservation.
Program Administration and Management. Program administration and management involves the functions and operations of the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, its powers and duties outlined in the Racine Historic Preservation Ordinance. The Heritage Preservation Plan proposes an update to the Ordinance that strengthens the role of the Commission in design review matters for historic districts, as well as providing more clarity to landmark and historic district designation procedures. Other recommendations focus on the need for adequate commissioner training and long-term staffing needs for the Commission.
Community Revitalization. Historic preservation-based economic development provides a multitude of benefits to a local community: enhanced property values, new job creation, revitalized commercial areas and older neighborhoods, increased tourism, and reused buildings providing opportunities for new business start-ups and residential living spaces. The Racine community has long committed to preservation-based community revitalization in its downtown and traditional commercial districts, as evidenced by its partnerships with the Downtown Racine Corporation and neighborhood business improvement districts, and in its neighborhoods with local neighborhood groups. This Plan reaffirms the community’s approach to preservation-based community revitalization by proposing new organizational frameworks and public-private partnerships to facilitating residential and commercial building rehabilitation, and by leveraging existing incentive programs to spur new adaptive use projects.
Education and Advocacy. Successful community preservation efforts require building a local preservation ethic that preserves Racine’s important historic resources through effective advocacy, education, stewardship and collaboration between the municipality, preservation advocates, non-profit entities, developers and investors, and owners of historic resources. Racine has been developing its preservation program for more than four decades, creating a strong institutional framework for historic preservation with Preservation Racine, the Downtown Racine Corporation and the Racine Heritage Museum, among others. However, new education and advocacy initiatives are needed to reach new audiences and stakeholder groups that have not participated in past preservation initiatives ― new families, young adults and millennials, and Hispanic and AfricanAmericans. The Plan suggests several new initiatives that bolster and expand the preservation message, including the use of internet-based technologies and new and maturing partnerships with local neighborhood groups, the Heritage Museum and Preservation Racine.