Under Threat, Preservation Efforts in Illinois Get New Leadership

From lawsuits to development pressures, Landmarks Illinois, the venerable voice for preservation in the state, has been doing its best to fend off challengers to the state's historic treasures. A new president hopes to help stiffen the defenses.

Christopher Bentley surveys the challenging landscape facing Bonnie McDonald, as the current executive director of the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota prepares to take the reins of Landmarks Illinois. "Amid an ongoing legal battle over Chicago's landmarks law, a growing list of endangered buildings and a gaping state budget deficit, the new president of Landmarks Illinois has her work cut out for her," notes Bentley.

McDonald will have plenty of solid statistics behind her as she makes the case for the economic value of historic preservation. According to Bentley, "A Rutgers University study found nonresidential historic rehabilitation in Florida created on average 29 jobs per million dollars of initial investment by the state, compared to just 22 for electronics manufacturing or 13 for aircraft machinery production. Working for the state of Nebraska, the same group-Rutgers' Center for Urban Policy Research-affirmed that finding, noting that nationwide commercial historic rehabilitation could create 25 jobs for every million dollars invested.

In addition, McDonald will have her own experiences with the economic development and job creating power of adaptive reuse to rely on: "a 20 percent state tax credit for historic rehabilitation generated $9.20 in economic activity for every dollar in tax relief, according to a study by the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality that McDonald's Preservation Alliance of Minnesota forwarded to lawmakers last year."

With the challenges facing preservation in Illinois, it sounds like McDonald will need all the help she can get.

Full Story: Making the Case

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