A new resource of Dubuque Historic Preservation

For the last several years, those in Dubuque who have been instrumental in completing some of the most innovative historic preservation projects have recognized the need for a local historic preservation nonprofit organization that could be a resource for property owners, businesses, and organizations looking to plan and complete their own historic preservation projects. After a year of intensive planning, Heritage Works, Inc. has been established to fill that need.

I became involved as a historic preservation consultant with the Friends of St. Mary’s shortly after obtaining my Masters in Historic Preservation from the School of the Art Institute in May of 2012. Through the St. Mary’s/Steeple Square project, I met John and Mary Gronen, owners of Gronen Restoration.

The Gronens have been part of ongoing discussions for several years about helping to form a preservation nonprofit focused on Dubuque area restoration projects. In my work over the past couple of years, there has been discussion about some of the barriers that property owners and developers face in trying to plan and complete historic preservation projects. In particular, the financing of historic preservation projects can be daunting, even for those who are familiar with the process. Many important projects do not even get to the planning stage because the technical and financial resources necessary to do the “pre-planning” work are underestimated. As a result, only a handful of property owners and developers in Dubuque have the knowledge and resources necessary to complete historic preservation projects.

In our discussions, we felt that historic preservation in Dubuque could be taken to the next level if there was a nonprofit organization that gathered all of the best practices from prior successful restoration projects and assembled a network of professionals who could impart their prior knowledge and experience to others. The organization could also mine technical and financial resources from throughout the United States for the purpose of promoting transformative projects in Dubuque’s historic neighborhoods.

John and Alice Butler have been long-time staunch advocates of historic preservation, both at the local and national level. Because of their past experience with preservation projects in Dubuque and their active involvement on the National Trust for Historic Preservation Council, the Butlers were keenly aware of the importance of vital technical and financial resources in completing quality restoration projects. They expressed an interest in helping to fund a non-profit historic preservation organization if an operationally viable and financially feasible business plan could be developed for the organization.

A planning team was assembled that included the Gronens, City of Dubuque Manager Mike Van Milligan, and President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, Nancy Van Milligan. The Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque and Gronen Restoration paid for the planning services of Preservation Design Works in Minneapolis, MN to help organize the framework of a preservation organization. The Gronens enlisted my help as historic preservation consultant to conduct research and to assist in the development of the business plan. Jerry Huguelet, then a Loras College student interning at Gronen Restoration, also provided valuable research and assistance with the business plan.

The goal of the organizational planning was to borrow successful programming from other preservation organizations throughout the country, but also to break the mold and create an innovative and entrepreneurial organization that would not only talk about the importance of preservation, but also engage in transformative historic property redevelopment projects that would show the tangible benefits of historic preservation in the Dubuque community.

The Butlers also strongly believe in education as a vital component in forwarding Dubuque preservation efforts. So the planning group endeavored to incorporate education and training into many of the programming proposals. The Butlers view Dubuque’s historic buildings and neighborhoods as a laboratory to help youth and interested adults gain vocational training and experience in developing skills in the traditional building trades, such as historic masonry repairs, historic carpentry, historic plaster repair, and stained glass restoration.

Heritage Works, Inc. is the result of over a year of thoughtful planning. Heritage Works’ startup and first years of operations are funded through the generous support of John and Alice Butler. We will begin immediately working to gain broad public support to assure long-term viability.

The name “Heritage Works” encapsulates all of what we hope to accomplish as an organization. The word “heritage” means a collective knowledge that is acquired or transmitted from predecessors. Each generation adds to heritage and passes it on. Heritage is dynamic and transformative. The word “works” has several meanings. As a verb, it means “to act or operate effectively.” As a noun, it means “a place where something is accomplished or produced.”

Heritage Works will strive to use Dubuque’s history as a transformative, effective, economic development tool so that Dubuque’s past and present can be transmitted to future generations.

Heritage Works will also be a “think tank” whose purpose is to develop innovative tools and methods of restoring and transforming Dubuque’s historic buildings and neighborhoods as well as the lives of the people who inhabit them. Heritage Works will be most effective when it partners with other organizations that have developed successful programming that will assist in meeting Heritage Works’ mission. Friends of St. Mary’s, through its Steeple Square Project, is engaged in a project that will transform the Washington Neighborhood, fitting squarely within the mission of Heritage Works. They also have developed programming to use the restoration of Steeple Square buildings as an opportunity to train those wanting experience in traditional building trades.

Four Mounds Foundation has a track record of developing successful educational programming to give hands-on training opportunities to at risk youth, as evidenced by the transformative HEART program. As one of its first projects, Heritage Works saw an opportunity to assist Four Mounds in developing a program to utilize local Dubuque high school students in the St. Mary’s window restoration project sponsored by Friends of St. Mary’s. As a result, all of the partner organizations are able to enhance their respective missions.

Heritage Works will strive to be a vital resource to assist those who want to harness historic preservation as an engine of economic development. We believe that Dubuque has only begun to tap its rich heritage to continue its nationally known reputation as a vibrant place to live, work, and play.

BY DUANE HAGERTY, PRESIDENT AND CEO, HERITAGE WORKS, INC.

As published in Julien’s Journal. View article here.