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Lifestyles

April 5, 2014

SHOW AND TELL: New Albany on display during state preservation conference

NEW ALBANY — About 200 visitors invaded downtown New Albany this week to learn about the city’s past, and to hear about how local leaders are trying to connect history to the future.

For the first time, New Albany hosted Preserving Historic Places: Indiana’s Statewide Preservation Conference. The forum brings together people from all over Indiana to discuss ways to preserve historic properties.

The conference began Tuesday and lasted through Friday, as those who attended listened to speakers, took tours of historic New Albany sites and spent time in downtown and midtown neighborhoods.

“I think people are really just blown away by the quality of the resources we have in New Albany,” said Greg Sekula, southern regional director for Indiana Landmarks.

Indiana University, the Indiana Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology and Indiana Landmarks combine to sponsor the annual conference, which will be held in Kokomo next year.

Having so many people visit New Albany and take notice of the local revitalization projects in the city helps to affirm the efforts of so many people, Sekula said.

Visitors were impressed with the Neighborhood Stabilization Project in Midtown as well as the historic housing stock in the city, Sekula said.

New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan spoke during one of the conference sessions, and he said being able to host the event was a credit to local preservationists and city officials who have long called for protection of historic properties.

“Initially, they were kind of solo voices,” Gahan said.

Now there are officials, preservationists and developers with knowledge of the city’s history and an affinity for saving it, he continued.

“We’re fortunate because of that chemistry,” Gahan said.

The conference participants were also impressed by the shops, restaurants and venues downtown, which Floyd County Historian David Barksdale touted as proof of how much New Albany has improved.

“Probably seven or eight years ago, we couldn’t have hosted something like this,” he said.

State Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, was one of the featured speakers on Friday.

His session was dedicated to the historic state tax credits in Indiana, which are capped at $450,000 annually.

With so few funds available statewide and so many worthy projects, the waiting list for the credits is already almost a decade long.

“So for all practical purposes, it’s no longer a viable program,” Clere said.

The tax credit can be enough of an incentive to get projects going that could eventually be catalysts for neighborhoods, he continued.

“It’s an important issue for New Albany and for other communities throughout the state,” Clere said.

Many of New Albany’s popular downtown dining establishments are refurbished buildings of historic note. The city has also taken steps to protect properties by establishing historic preservation districts.

From the walkablity of the city to the ongoing revitalization projects at sites such as the Town Clock Church, conference guests paid several compliments to New Albany during their visit.

Barksdale said sometimes you need an outsider’s opinion to really appreciate what New Albany has to offer, as he added it’s easy for those who live in the city to become complacent because they’ve grown accustom to the surroundings.

Having the state preservation conference in New Albany not only boost sales for local shops and restaurants but it will also help with marketing the city, officials said.

“It’s a pleasure to be able to show off New Albany, and it’s exciting to have so much to show off,” Clere said.

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