25 Minnesota sites compete for $1 million in preservation grants this month

by Anissa Stocks

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak spoke to a room full of reporters and attendees about the âÄúhundreds of storiesâÄù that buildings all over the Twin Cities area have to tell.

This month, a national community-oriented organization will work to highlight those stories of 25 Minnesota historic sites by divvying up a $1 million pot in preservation grants.

The program, led by Partners in Preservation collaborating with National Trust for Historic Preservation and the American Express Foundation, will grant between $5,000 and $125,000 for restoration and repair work to historic properties like the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand and Mill Ruins Park in Minneapolis.

The partners are holding a Facebook contest so voters can choose which site will receive the biggest grant. An advisory committee of preservationists and community leaders, including Rybak and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, will determine the remaining sitesâÄô monetary needs.

Voting for the winning site is done through the Partners in Preservation Facebook page and will be open to users until the contest closes Oct. 12.

Greg Heinemann, board of directors chairman for the James J. Hill House âÄî one of the 25 sites âÄî said that the program is vital because preservation of historical sites has many positive effects, like community revitalization and increased tourism.

Many of the selected sites are in need of major repairs, said Timothy McClimon, president of the American Express Foundation.  

The Soap Factory, a contemporary art gallery in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood near the University of Minnesota campus, is on the list of sites vying for the money.

The 123-year-old building has endured a leaky roof and iced walls in winter months for decades. It was gutted for demolition about 16 years ago, but converted to an art gallery soon after. It is already a part of the stateâÄôs historic St. Anthony Falls district.

 âÄúItâÄôs critical that weâÄôre able to repair the [space],âÄù said Debra deNoyelles, the galleryâÄôs development director.

Initially, more than 200 Minnesota sites were identified as candidates, McClimon said, but only 25 made the final cut. In the past, the program targeted other cities like Boston and Seattle, selecting 25 sites. Twin Cities is the sixth region selected. The program has awarded roughly $5.5 million to more than 50 historic sites since it started in 2006.

Some of the local finalists like Fort Snelling were identified as âÄúendangeredâÄù sites in the past by national historic organizations, said Chris Morris, Minnesota program officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The list was narrowed down based on criteria like geographic and cultural diversity and project length.

McClimon said the Minnesota was selected for the program because of its rich cultural and architectural history. Many local preservationists say historic properties are among the stateâÄôs most valuable resources.