Speech | Detroit, Michigan | September 7, 2016

Announcement of Jefferson-Chalmers National Treasure

Thank you everyone for coming out this morning. It is great to be here in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood with you.

I would like to recognize Josh Elling of Jefferson East, Inc. and Kimberly Driggins of the City of Detroit for helping us make this special announcement, and for their work to revitalize this neighborhood and others throughout the City of Detroit. I also want to thank the Kresge Foundation for their ongoing support of our work here in the city.

And I specially would like to thank our preservation partner Nancy Finegood of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, whose determined advocacy helped bring the National Trust to Detroit—specifically here to Jefferson-Chalmers.

The story of Jefferson-Chalmers is one we see all over the country.

On one hand, many great cities across America, Detroit among them, have experienced the loss of their manufacturing job base, significant population decline, and disinvestment. On the other hand, cities—even legacy cities with long-term economic challenges—are experiencing revitalization thanks in large part to the reinvestment and reuse of existing places.

Despite its recent economic challenges, Jefferson-Chalmers’ bones – its historic buildings and places – remain strong and resilient

Based on our research and experience both here in Detroit and around the country, we strongly believe that Jefferson-Chalmers’ past is the key to unlocking a more dynamic future. Through creative reuse and rehabilitation, this neighborhood’s older and historic buildings are well-positioned to evolve into vibrant assets that spur revitalization and meet the community’s 21st century needs.

Take the Vanity Ballroom, one of the buildings in Jefferson-Chalmers with great potential for reuse. Built in 1929, with a distinctive Aztec motif, the Vanity played host to the likes of Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and Tommy Dorsey in its heyday, and even hosted the Velvet Underground and Detroit’s Iggy & the Stooges in the early 1970’s. This is a place where music history happened. And, with its acquisition by Jefferson East, it can serve as the centerpiece of the neighborhood’s revival.

This historic neighborhood has the pieces in place to regenerate and revitalize itself if we work to unleash their remarkable potential. At the National Trust, we are committed to making it happen—to contribute to exciting local efforts already underway.

That is why I am proud today to officially announce the Jefferson-Chalmers District as the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s newest National Treasure.

National Treasures is our signature initiative at the Trust, a revolving and diverse portfolio of more than fifty active campaigns at the most important and yet threatened historic places in America.

We choose these Treasures very carefully, based on their importance to the communities in which they reside, the diverse stories they tell about our American past, and the ways we can work to make a positive difference in protecting them and keeping them thriving.

This is the first National Treasure designation in Detroit and the first in the state of Michigan.

What this designation means today is that we believe the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood is an excellent place in which to focus our preservation resources, alongside significant community building work, and to offer our growing expertise on how older buildings can make great cities like Detroit even better.

The National Trust’s National Main Street Center, has already begun to work with Jefferson East to create a clear vision and action plan for the business district revitalization.

In addition, the National Main Street Center awarded a $25,000 grant to Jefferson East, Inc. for its work on the Vanity Ballroom. We look forward to working with the Jefferson-Chalmers community to explore reuse opportunities at this iconic building.

Just last week our Preservation Green Lab – which works at the intersection of preservation and sustainability – released its Detroit Partnership for Building Reuse report—the fifth such report for a U.S. city. It highlights specific tools to enable older building reuse in Detroit neighborhoods like Jefferson-Chalmers, and we will continue our involvement with a local advisory council to advance those recommendations across Detroit.

This work builds on innovative research that the Preservation Green Lab has conducted across America, backing up the fact that neighborhoods thrive with a healthy mix of restored older, smaller buildings along with new.

The Trust looks forward to providing support to Jefferson East and to attracting community-conscious private developers to take on additional buildings along the commercial corridor.

We look forward to advancing the Preservation Green Lab recommendations in Detroit, particularly focused on work with the City, the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, Jefferson East, and the neighbors to secure a viable reuse for the Guyton Elementary School in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood.

The National Trust has been working in cities across this country for decades. We recognize that many organizations and foundations are also at work to reinvigorate these communities. Some call their work Livable Cities. Others speak about Tactical Urbanism or New Urbanism.

At the National Trust, our work focuses on reuse and reinvestment in communities like Detroit. So our work here in this city is part of a new initiative at the National Trust that will enhance and refocus our longstanding commitment to the reuse, reinvestment, and revitalization of cities. We’re calling it: ReUrbanism.

ReUrbanism means using the remarkable powers of preservation and creative reuse to spur economic growth, helping the communities and people who live in neighborhoods like Jefferson Chalmers solve the problems neighborhoods and cities face today, and position them for an even brighter future.

It means putting people first – positioning preservation in the larger context of human needs, like health, well-being, equity, affordability, sustainability.

It means making reuse the standard for urban regeneration, and demolition of historic places the option of last resort.

We believe Jefferson-Chalmers presents an important opportunity to demonstrate the difference that effective preservation tools and policies can make, and the many positive benefits that come through main street revitalization and community re-development.

In all of this work, we will listen to the people who live, work, and play in this historic neighborhood, and work with them to bring out the best in Jefferson-Chalmers.

We are very excited about this endeavor, and to join with local partners. Because we strongly believe that, through ReUrbanism, preservation allies, community builders, residents, and city leaders can come together to make neighborhoods stronger, healthier and more vibrant.

To all of you standing here with me today, thank you for joining us on this journey.


The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places.
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