By Sean Webster
Several dozen Lakewood residents gathered in the Lakewood Public Library’s auditorium today to take part in a community workshop on historic preservation.
The forum was led by Dru Siley, the director of Lakewood’s Planning Commission, and featured opening remarks from Lakewood Mayor Mike Summers.
The meeting was reminiscent of a June 16 event in which more than 100 Lakewoodites flooded to the same location for a public forum on the future of the city’s Detroit Theater, which may soon be purchased and demolished by McDonald’s.
In fact, Wednesday’s meeting was, in large part, prompted by the 87-year-old theater.
“It’s a great problem to have in Lakewood, that so many people come out and take part in these discussions,” said Siley.
The primary goal of the meeting was to initiate a discussion between the public and city officials about what “historic preservation” means in Lakewood and to begin to develop some criteria to determine which of the city’s many old buildings should be saved.
“Lakewood turned 100 this year. What are the buildings we want to keep for the next 100 years?” asked Siley.
At the beginning of the forum, Siley presented the preliminary results of a survey passed out to over 120 people asking them what they think about historic preservation (click here to see the entire presentation in PDF format, courtesy of the Lakewood Planning Commission ).
According to the results, a majority of respondents replied that historic preservation was “very important” and agreed that there are economic benefits to preserving the cultural, historical, and architectural character of Lakewood’s built environment.
Respondents also identified limited financing and property owner resource limitations as two of the biggest challenges to preservation and cited that the city or local organizations can make preservation easier or more attractive to residents and businesses primarily through gap financing and education about best practices in education, tax credits and other incentives that are available.
After the presentation, the crowd was divided into six groups of roughly a dozen people and asked to pick 10 buildings to save from a list of 47 of Lakewood’s best historic commercial properties. The overwhelming majority of the properties are located along Detroit Avenue and include a number of churches, theaters and mixed-use buildings.
Some of the more popular structures picked by the groups included St. James Church, the Masonic Temple Lakewood, and many of the city’s mixed use buildings. Two groups of the six chose to save the Detroit Theater.
In addition to age and architecture, one of the main issues that often came up when deciding whether to save a building was functionality.
“We don’t want to create a building zoo,” said Siley. “Buildings aren’t good because they’re old … they’re old because they’re good. There comes a time when buildings become obsolete,” he said.
At the end of the meeting, Siley said he would work with the Lakewood Heritage Advisory Board to draw up a mission statement about historic preservation in Lakewood, what the goals of historic preservation will be, and what the city is going to do to achieve those goals.
He also announced that the results of the ongoing survey will be released by the Planning Commission next week.
Anyone interested in participating in the survey can visit the city’s website to fill out the form.