Historic Preservation Refinement Plan gets update

The restoration of the Bank Building is intended to improve the overall appearance of Main Street.

Cottage Grove has updated its Historic Preservation Refinement Plan, replacing its 2014 iteration as the city’s guiding document for community engagement, grant writing and partnership projects regarding historic preservation over the next five years.

The city council voted Sept. 9 to amend the city’s Comprehensive Plan in order to incorporate the updated Historic Preservation Refinement Plan. The 108-page document focuses on long-range management of Cottage Grove’s cultural heritage by seeking to maintain the city’s historic character.

“It’s an overall guide for keeping preservation in the minds of the community and the minds of the city as it moves forward in its development,” said Holli Turpin, a member of the Cottage Grove Historical Society who worked on the planning team for the Historic Preservation Plan update. “And it helps bring in input from outside organizations so the city has a deeper understanding of what the community wants.”

The updated plan credits various heritage partners with making strides since 2014. The Genealogical Society, for instance, relocated from the historic Vealey House to the Cottage Grove Community Center, where the group’s collection is climate controlled and more accessible to the general public.

The Cottage Grove Museum, in turn, moved its office and research library into the Vealey House after city staff repaired the building’s first floor. The move allowed the museum to better curate and inventory their collection, greatly enhancing a visitor experience that had previously been restricted by space and visibility.

The Bohemia Mining Museum found a more permanent home at the Red Barn on S. 10th Street, moving in with the Cottage Grove Historical Society. As a result, both groups have experienced increased foot traffic and financial stability.

On top of location improvements, the city has seen a number of heritage projects through Heritage All-Star and Certified Local Government grants. Some such projects include providing interpretative signage about Opal Whiteley, the restoration of the Opal mural at All-America City Square, walking tour signage, brochures, enhanced collection equipment for historic items, improved lighting and collection storage in the museum, digital archiving and physical curation of newspaper collections.

Grants dedicated to historic preservation, as with the renovation of the Old Club and Bank Building, have also helped improve the appearance of Main Street.

Meanwhile, a recurring “History Pub” in which various organizations and presenters provide information on local history at the Axe and Fiddle has found popularity on the first Tuesday of each month.

The updated plan also outlines existing heritage programs and their progress.

Though not without its share of public debate, the Main Street Refinement Plan has proposed to enhance the economic vitality of downtown by creating accessible streetscapes and redesigning the commercial core of the district. The Main Street Refinement Plan was adopted as part of the city’s Transportation System Plan in 2015. The Historic Preservation Plan states that this will be used to apply for funding to redevelop five blocks of Main Street and one block of each of the adjacent perpendicular streets within the next 10 years.

In May 2016, public input was gathered as part of the All-America Square Refinement Plan, which has informed decisions on maintenance and future improvements of the square. Several small grants helped realize these actions, such as the refurbishing of the Opal mural, removing the central planter, adding a new entrance from Seventh Street, installing interpretive signage and removing the wall to the parking lot. Additionally, night lighting and a Christmas tree holder have made the square a popular holiday attraction.

Resident surveys were also conducted, underlining Cottage Grove’s familiar passion for all things historical.

One survey of property owners of historic buildings established that respondents wanted local government to support more historic preservation efforts through financing and education. Respondents to an online survey felt strongly that preserving the city’s historic places “provides a sense of place to our community, stimulates tourism and provides educational opportunities for our youth.”

Eighty percent felt that the city should create ways to help private homeowners preserve their historic homes through methods such as grants, low interest loans or historical consultation.

Respondents also said that when they host out-of-town visitors, they most commonly show off attractions such as the Downtown Historic District, covered bridges, local museums, local theaters or heritage events like Bohemia Mining Days.

In considering the city’s progress and public opinion, the planning team also updated their goals for the coming years.

“Primarily what we were looking at was revising our goals and strategies because we had been so successful in meeting the goals and strategies which we originally established in 2014 that it seemed appropriate to all involved that we update them,” said City Planner Amanda Ferguson in a Sept. 9 City Council meeting.

In updating the plan’s goals, the city means to promote inter-organizational collaboration of heritage partners, improve its historical review process, develop a local inventory of historic resources, preserve said resources, promote tourism and provide economic incentives for building restoration. A host of strategies are scheduled to be employed over the next several years to accomplish these goals.

For more information on historical preservation, visit the city’s website at www.cottagegrove.org under the City Departments and Community Development tab.

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