The Southeast Missouri State University historic preservation program and Cape Girardeau were strongly represented at Main Street Now, a national conference of National Main Street Center, Inc. (NMSC) recently held in Kansas City, Missouri, and hosted by Missouri Main Street Connection (MMSC).
Dr. Carlos Vargas, president of Southeast; Dr. Steven Hoffman, coordinator of Southeast’s historic preservation program, professor of history and member of the Old Town Cape, Inc.’s board of directors; and Marla Mills, executive director of Old Town Cape jointly led a session on fostering positive relationships between higher education and downtown revitalization organizations.
When Kansas City was chosen as the conference’s host city, Hoffman and Mills approached the University to discuss opportunities for involvement. Vargas expressed interest in enhancing Southeast’s presence, and together they created a presentation for the conference: “Higher Education Partnerships and How to Maximize the Relationships.”
“When looking at a partnership with an educational organization, you try to look at it from all perspectives,” Mills explained. “We’ve been able to sustain our partnership with the historic preservation program and the University over such a long time by trying to meet the needs of all sides.”
The presentation exemplified the successful relationship between Southeast and Old Town Cape and offered insights to other organizations seeking to make similar connections.
“I am proud of the University’s ongoing commitment to Old Town Cape through the financial support of student labor and technology, in addition to assisting Dr. Hoffman with travel to the annual Main Street Now national conference,” Vargas said.
“Both partners are helping to accomplish each other’s missions,” Hoffman said. “The students provide assistance in completing Old Town Cape’s projects, and the opportunities provide the students with experiential learning, meeting the University’s strategic mission. The partnership is also a valuable tool for recruitment and retention.”
The session was well attended by professionals from preservation and economic revitalization organizations. Many were impressed by the involvement from the University’s president. Since the conference, Old Town Cape has been contacted by organizations seeking additional advice, and members from one group even scheduled a visit to Cape Girardeau.
“Dr. Vargas is so engaged in our downtown and openly says he loves the work that we do,” Mills said. “What better way to show that relationship is possible than to have all of us at the table.”
Vargas added, “It is extremely valuable for Southeast to be engaged as an active partner to support Old Town Cape’s ongoing efforts as it continues to revitalize our downtown area.”
Southeast students have been involved in several projects, such as architectural surveys, placemaking projects and National Register nominations that have contributed toward the goals of improvement of downtown Cape Girardeau.
“The relationship also benefits the community as a whole,” Mills said. “It brings preservation into the community. Having engaged students and faculty has made it better. We are further along now than we would have been without the involvement of the University.”
Also during the conference, Hoffman was recognized for earning his Main Street America Revitalization Professional (MSARP) credential. Hoffman was a member of the second group of graduates to earn the MSARP credential since the program was developed in 2015. The credential signifies professional development through the NMSC’s Main Street America Institute. Participants earn the credential by completing a two-year process that includes several online modules and in-person sessions in each of the four areas of the preservation-based community revitalization techniques known as the Main Street® Approach: economic vitality, organization, promotion and design. The participants also complete online modules and an in-person workshop on leadership development and are required to pass a comprehensive final exam.
Hoffman has been the president of the board of directors of the MMSC since 2009. He advocated for the MSARP program and was involved in reviewing proposals and implementing plans. Although he has taught some of the design courses, he wanted to participate in the program to refine his skills.
“I wanted to enhance my ability to teach the classes –‘Historic Preservation-based Economic Revitalization’ and ‘Legal and Economic Principles of Historic Preservation’,” Hoffman said. “It also gives me legitimacy in the Main Street world.”
Mills said the credential benefits the community as well as the individual.
“Having that credential, in addition to the knowledge it brings, gives the community and the program a certain level of confidence,” Mills said. “Our board recognizes him as an advisor and a resource, not just for historic preservation but also strategy and his ability to combine opportunities and needs to benefit everyone.”
National Main Street Center, Inc. is a nonprofit organization and a subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. For more than 35 years, the Center’s Main Street America program has provided assistance in the revitalization of older and historic commercial districts. Today, it is a network of more than 1,600 neighborhoods and communities, rural and urban, who share both a commitment to place and to building stronger communities through preservation-based economic development.