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Annual Conference

MHPN Annual Conference

Each spring, the Network sponsors the state’s largest annual statewide preservation conference to provide training and networking opportunities geared to both beginners and seasoned preservationists. In addition to offering sessions crammed with the latest news and information from around the state, the conference is known for its keynote speakers, festive evening activities, and annual auction of Michigan items ranging from overnights at historic bed-and-breakfasts, to antiques, books, and gourmet delights. Among the many features of the gathering is the Vendor’s Showcase, which provides and opportunity for the general public to view the latest products and services in the preservation industry.

40th Annual Statewide Preservation Conference
“Preservation on the Frontline” 
Sunday, September 20 – Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Fetzer Center, Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo, Michigan

Registration for the 2020 MHPN Conference
is suspended while the event is 
moved to
Sunday, September 20 though Wednesday, September 23, 2020. 
Our website will keep you up-to-date.  Thank you!

 2020 Conference Brochure

2020 Theme “Preservation on the Frontline”

We most often think of being “on the frontline” in military terms.  Preservationists understand this but don’t relish being adversarial.  While we’re ready to act in the face of a challenge, we’d rather be proactively preserving important properties, networking and building knowledge and skills, and engaging new partners who recognize, as we do, that preservation is a common good with big local and state benefits.  

Fortunately, there are other meanings to being on the frontline.

A frontline is also your “first-string,” the one that moves the newest and best ideas from thought to action.  Michigan preservationists are reclaiming traditional downtowns and neighborhoods.  In addition to being appealing to both young professionals and retirees–and everyone in between–these places are cultural centers for their regions, heritage tourism destinations, economic jump-starters, and authentic, walkable spaces full of Michigan character.  Design and sustainability professionals have firmly connected preservation with the Green Movement and LEED ratings, proving that old buildings can be top-notch energy savers.  Smart adaptive reuse is flourishing.  A former department store becomes a business incubator, a gas station becomes a pharmacy, the high school becomes much-needed housing.

Additional “first-string” efforts are everywhere.  We’re in the midst of discovering an entirely new generation of historic buildings–the Mid-Century Moderns–that we can spare from the cycle of public disinterest and loss by grasping their importance now.  Archaeologists are using cutting-edge technologies such as LiDAR that measures distances with laser light, that, when teamed with close-range digital photogrammetry, captures details that vastly expand interpretation.  The philosophical underpinnings to the preservation movement are compelling.  We’ve all known that “old places” exist at a human scale that fosters social engagement and diversity, understandable governmental planning at a smaller scale, and reinvestment with an enormous ripple effect.  Now scholars and analysts are proving it.    

Best of all, a definition of frontline is “first-rate.”  That’s where this conference comes in.  Every year for 40 consecutive years, the MHPN has brought together the best Michigan preservationists as well as national front-liners who put our efforts into perspective.  Whether you’re coming to Kalamazoo from one of Michigan’s Legacy Cities with rust-belt challenges, from a smaller town or city looking to redefine its future or keep a healthy resurgence going, or from a fragile shoreline, rural, or agricultural community that faces constant development pressure, it’s worth coming together to talk things through. 

Bring YOUR best frontline thinking to Kalamazoo in May.          


Past Conferences

39th Annual Statewide Preservation Conference
“Toolkits and Wheelhouses”
May 16-18, 2019
Holland, Michigan

2019 Conference Brochure (pdf)

2019 Conference Compiled Abstracts (pdf)

2019 Theme “Toolkits and Wheelhouses”

Many Michigan communities have nurtured effective preservation programs – i.e. those that passed their local protective ordinances in the ’70s and ’80s and use them well, those that spur effective community participation, and those that have included preservation in their planning and development activities and utilized local, state, and federal programs to greatest effect.  Many other communities have younger preservation programs but much to share because they have avoided known pitfalls and used new techniques – i.e. those that include in their initial survey work not just buildings but the historic trees, alleys, and outbuildings around them, those that are recognizing the importance of protecting their Mid-Century Modern architecture before it is lost, and those embracing new protection techniques such as Form-Based Codes that fully integrate preservation into zoning laws. 

Communities both new and seasoned can learn from these preservation champions and, perhaps more importantly, see that no matter how effective a community has been, constant vigilance and education are required and some battles are lost.  Participants will see what successful programs keep honed in their toolkits to make preservation work, and which communities have the advantage of preservation being firmly in their wheelhouses.  What is shared can apply directly to traditional downtowns and neighborhoods, archaeological resources, architectural treasures of the recent past, Legacy Cities, the fragile shoreline and agricultural communities that face constant development pressure, and more. 

Holland is the perfect host community for considering this theme because the city has a great array of architectural resources, a well-established protective ordinance, one of the first city-funded professional preservation positions, and a community with a sound preservation ethic.  Having presentations from communities throughout the State will be our goal, with emphasis placed on those presenting best practices, inspiring successes, and failures that are cautionary tales.   

38th Annual Statewide Preservation Conference
“Proactive Preservation”
 May 17-19, 2018
Hannah Center, East Lansing

2018 Conference Brochure

2018 Theme “Proactive Preservation”

Historic preservationists are skilled advocates for the work we do although few of us would think of ourselves that way. Our efforts generally attract little attention. We work alone or in a variety of partnerships focused on a goal. Patience is a hallmark.

Think, for example, of the volunteers surveying the architectural resources in their town. Up and down the streets they go taking photos every Saturday; the library research takes months. The volunteers talk with their neighbors about recognizing and protecting what’s special about their community. The best way to do that is with a local protective ordinance they explain. These are not easy conversations because property owners can be wary, but their methodical work leads to passage of an ordinance and designation of the first local historic district.

Or we think of the development team that wants to save an abandoned historic building. They seem to be the only ones, however, who see its potential for adaptive reuse. Seeking financing, the team finds lenders who are skeptical that a worn out building can be reclaimed. The resulting loan-to-value ratio is low so the developers, undeterred, employ their best negotiating skills to secure layers of grants, private equity, municipal loans, and tax credits. The project is a success.

Is this kind of everyday advocacy effective? Yes, just look around. Over 70 governmental units in Michigan have passed protective ordinances because surveys are completed, property owner questions are answered, and public hearing presentations are compelling. For the historic buildings that few see as ripe for development, the developers negotiate their way through the maze of financial packaging. Elsewhere, effective OpEd pieces go into local papers, challenges to state enabling legislation are thwarted, foundations make grants to game-changing projects, and blogs speak to the unlimited possibilities of historic properties. Preservationists masterfully use the facts to convince, persuade, influence, and win over. With tact, they coax people and projects along. When energies are flagging, they inspire and encourage. And it goes without saying that they applaud, encourage, praise, and cheer on!

Our conference this year recognizes just how much proactive preservationists have accomplished in Michigan to maintain their traditional downtowns and neighborhoods, understand and protect their  archaeological resources, safeguard architectural treasures of the recent past, revitalize their Legacy Cities, counter development pressures on shoreline and agricultural communities, and more. We’ll ask the question: Can we recognize that we do indeed possess finely-tuned advocacy skills that can be harnessed to overcome bigger challenges, take on daunting projects, and bring people along with us on our mission to save what’s special about Michigan?

37th Annual Statewide Preservation Conference
“Imagine the Power of Partnerships”
May 17-20, 2017
North Central Michigan College, Petoskey

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2017 Theme “Imagine the Power of Partnerships”

Historic preservation is all about work done in partnership with others.

There’s the large preservation project that makes the news – perhaps the late-19th-century furniture manufactory in West Michigan transformed into unique residential lofts – and there’s the property owner working Up North every summer to reclaim the wood windows of a late-19th-century cottage.  In the first project, the property owner is in a dizzying partnership with investors, bankers, accountants, attorneys, consultants, and state and federal agencies.  In the second, the cottager forms a simple alliance with the local lumberyard owner who shares the art of re-roping a window’s weights and pulleys.

Then there’s every imaginable form of partnership in between.  An adventuresome couple takes some classes, buys an early-20th-century Bungalow, and restores its original wood sheathing, hardwood floors, and leaded-glass cabinetry.  An enormous group resonates to a crowd-funding appeal and underwrites production of an architectural history book.  A small group refuses to accept a crumbling village center; its like-minded individuals restore key buildings and, with inventive sales and marketing, reclaim a destination soon attracting weekend travelers.  And there’s the entire town – from children, to cultural leaders, to local officials – that comes together to save a stunning local opera house.

Placing collaborative efforts at the forefront in 2017, we seek presenters who will provide participants with the skills needed to work in all kinds of partnerships helping to  maintain their traditional downtowns and neighborhoods, safeguard Michigan’s architectural treasures of the recent past, understand and protect their pre-historic and historic archaeological resources, counter development pressures on shoreline and agricultural communities, revitalize their Legacy Cities, and more. 

36th Annual Statewide Preservation Confernce – Resolve, Revolve, Evolve
Detroit, May 11-14
In 2016, we celebrate three landmark events: the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, and the 35th anniversary of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network. We are also celebrating our return to the City of Detroit for the first time since 2001…and how things have changed since then! We see a new energy and determination in the city and in communities around the state of Michigan. We’ve rejoiced in many victories and have even mourned a few losses…but then, like Detroit, we rebuild from the ashes, stronger than ever.

As preservationists, we know that the strong growth of our state is firmly rooted in the resources of its past – in the buildings, landscapes and objects that we work to preserve. We use the tools developed by our predecessors to help us protect and build on those resources, from the documentation methods and standards developed by the National Park Service, to the expertise and stewardship of our State Historic Preservation Office, which was established by the National Historic Preservation Act. And we know that preservation is not about preventing change but about managing it, by finding new uses for historic resources that keep them relevant.

This year’s conference theme – “Resolve, Revolve, Evolve” – brings a fresh lens to what we do as preservationists. It recognizes that one of our most important tools is our Resolve: our determination to restore our historic resources and to revitalize our state’s communities, no matter their size or number of residents. Along the way, we work to resolve the problems facing those communities, whether it is conflicts between neighborhoods and downtowns, between urban centers and rural landscapes, or between those who want to preserve and those who want to build new. It welcomes the opportunity to Revolve: to look at old problems from different angles, to get creative in our solutions, and to keep the clock moving, knowing that the time to get things done is NOW. And it acknowledges that we must continually Evolve: nurturing new preservationists and allies, reaching out to young entrepreneurs and to the new residents who are flocking into Detroit and other communities, and looking for new ways to engage those who are already there.

 2012 NTHP Conference Presentation