2007-07-14 / Top News

New Historic Preservation Committee Meets on Island

By Karen Gould

The character of Mackinac Island's older buildings are embodied in the Mustang Lounge on Astor Street (above left), which is one of the buildings thought to have been moved here with Fort Michilimackinac, and the old opera house, built in 1870, the second building from the left (right). The character of Mackinac Island's older buildings are embodied in the Mustang Lounge on Astor Street (above left), which is one of the buildings thought to have been moved here with Fort Michilimackinac, and the old opera house, built in 1870, the second building from the left (right). The newly organized Mackinac Island Preservation Committee is seeking advice from professional planners on steps to take to protect Island buildings, culture, and ambiance. The committee will invite preservation and municipal planning specialists to future meetings to help map out a process by which the city can find the best ways to preserve the Island's character.

That will include looking at other communities which attempt to maintain their historic nature, including Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and Gettysburg.

Mayor Margaret Doud called the group for its first meeting Friday, July 6, for an idea session.

The committee is comprised of representatives from City Council, Mackinac Island Community Foundation, Mackinac Island State Park, and Island residents. City representatives include Aldermen Mike Hart and Dan Wightman, and Island resident Jim "Bam" Bazinaw. The State Park representative is Director Phil Porter, while foundation representatives are Chairman Wes Maurer, Trustee Mike Young, and Preservation Committee Chair Chris Straus. The committee will work with Mayor Doud and Foundation Executive Director Jennifer Bloswick.

Concerning preservation, Mr. Porter said, "Normally, you think buildings, and that's certainly important, but I think it is more than buildings. It's the whole environment and also the ambiance. There are very few places in the world where you can step into a pre-automotive culture. Preserving that, preserving horse culture, preserving architecture, preserving the natural elements of Mackinac, there's a multitude of things."

The pre-automotive culture can be shattered, however, noted Mrs. Bloswick, when students who come here on school trips in the early spring see winter construction trucks still running up and down Main Street. That, she said, "totally ruins the whole image."

"I know that from going to council meetings, it's something council struggles with all the time," she said.

Educating residents on preservation will make a difference, said Mr. Maurer, and a number of publications are available as a resource. At one time, he said, the state park had considered publishing a book in conjunction with the city's planning commission that would serve as a guide for construction and remodeling projects.

The booklet was to offer advice and drawings detailing architectural features that would be appropriate on the Island, and building features that would not be acceptable, such as window styles. The guide, however, never was produced.

"Community education is the ultimate way to go," he said, "so everyone in the community is on the same track."Mr. Porter agreed that public education will help, but said ordinances still are needed to require compliance. He cited the need for a revised and comprehensive sign ordinance, which the city is now working to develop.

"I think the bottom line is, unless there are statutes in place, we might as well forget about it," he said.

Mr. Maurer suggested extending the historic district. Market Street is in the historic district, he said, and more restrictions are in place there than on Main Street.

The Island needs a set of standards, agreed Mr. Porter, suggesting that the federal standards adopted by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission could be a starting place.

"Let's identify aspects of our way of living that maintain that sense of place, that sense of community, that's special for us, and then build ordinances and rules around those perimeters," said Mr. Bazinaw. "What is it that sets us apart?"

In his travels with the military around the world, he said, he has seen many communities that have been successful in preserving their cultural attributes, which make them popular destinations for travelers. He said the Island needs to identify its best features and focus on protecting those.

Making an area more restrictive also can make it more attractive, said Mr. Straus. He cited Sea Island, Georgia, which has limited construction and density and, as a result, the number of people wanting to live there has increased.

"The key is to get people to see the examples," he said.

The committee discussed the uniqueness of the Island, including the requirement that United Parcel Service use horse-drawn drays for package delivery, and the extra effort used for street sweeping using a horse-drawn mechanical cleaner and water wagon, rather than a motor vehicle.

"We can embrace moving forward," said Mr. Porter, "but we should do it in a strategic and controlled way."

Many commercial buildings on Mackinac Island are in need of serious repair and preservation comes at a cost, said Mr. Young. The huge expense involved in historic preservation may be a factor hindering restoration by building owners, he added.

"Losing the fundamental attractiveness of who we are costs us a lot more," however, said Mr. Hart.

Mayor Doud said she fears some historic buildings may not survive much longer, citing the Mustang Lounge on Astor Street, which has been for sale, and the Island's old opera house, which now is a Main Street retail store.

The committee agreed that Andrew Doud's remodeling of Doud's Mercantile was a positive change. The remodeling and removal of products from the front window was nothing fancy, they said, yet effective. Fancy is not what Mackinac Island is about, agreed the committee.

The committee will meet again when it can arrange to have a member of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network present to discuss how it could best proceed.

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