Bellingham to host conference on building healthy downtowns, preserving history

In just a few weeks, people can hear how Bellingham and other cities around the state have worked to revamp their downtowns while preserving their histories at a series of workshops and tours over three days.

From May 6 to 8, Bellingham will host the RevitalizeWA 2015 conference, which is put on each year by the Washington State Main Street Program and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.

The conference will feature educational presentations about preserving and restoring historic buildings, and improving business in downtowns and other commercial districts, among many other topics.

After joining in January, Bellingham is the newest of 32 communities in the Washington Main Street Program, said Sarah Hansen, Main Street coordinator. Members gain access to a tax credit incentive program that can help them encourage people to make donations.

Another 81 groups that don’t qualify to be full-fledged members also work with the program, she said.

“Main Street is really an economic development program,” Hansen said. “We help communities identify their assets, which are usually their culture, their historic buildings, and we focus on ways to maximize those.”

In addition to educational workshops that will be held at Mount Baker Theatre throughout the conference, participants can tour Woodstock Farm, Fairhaven, downtown, the Granary Building, and the former Washington State National Guard Armory building, said Katie Franks, who works in Bellingham’s Planning and Community Development Department.

On May 6, the historic trust will announce this year’s most endangered properties at a free reception with live music from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at Aslan Brewing Company. The next night, the “Excellence on Main” awards reception will take place at SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention.

“People will be able to check out a lot of cool projects from around the state,” Hansen said.

The keynote speaker will be Della Rucker, author of “The Local Economy Revolution” and “Why This Work Matters.” The opening of the conference at 8:30 a.m. May 7, including Rucker’s speech, will be free and open to the public.

Registration for the full two-day conference, Thursday and Friday, is $150, with discounts available for groups and students. A few workshops will be held the day before the conference starts, for $20 each.

The tour of the Granary and Armory buildings is $15, with limited space. If many local people seem interested in the tour and can’t sign up, the city might set up more tours in the future, Franks said.

More information on the conference, as well as the link to online registration, can be found at preservewa.org/RevitalizeWA.aspx.