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Government, Politics & Issues

St. Louis named "distinctive destination" by National Trust for Historic Preservation

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 3, 2010 - If you have always felt St. Louis is a better travel destination than, say, Sitka, Alaska, or Cedar Falls, Iowa, here’s your chance to tell the world.

Along with those two spots and nine more, St. Louis has made this year’s list of the Dozen Distinctive Destinations designated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. At a City Hall ceremony Wednesday morning, Bill Hart, the Missouri field representation for the National Trust, praised the city’s architecture, neighborhoods, cultural diversity and preservation efforts.

And he and Mayor Francis Slay noted that St. Louis has the chance to be named the favorite destination of this year’s dozen by people who can go online to vote.

“I know that St. Louis has always been a distinctive designation,” Slay said, accepting a plaque from Hart. “It’s great to know that others know it too.”

In its description of St. Louis, the National Trust website says that visitors who look beyond the Gateway Arch and the Cardinals “will find a vibrant, ethnically diverse city full of unexpected treasures and one-of-a-kind attractions.”

Among the sites listed are the Chase-Park Plaza, Anheuser-Busch  brewery, Union Station, Soulard Market and the Cathedral Basilica.

“Architecture buffs and curious visitors will not be disappointed with the collection of red brick buildings, cobblestone streets and terra cotta friezes designed by some of America's most notable architects: from Louis Sullivan's Wainwright Building, lauded as the nation's first skyscraper, to the area's only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building, Ebsworth House, St. Louis has preserved excellent examples of America's major architectural trends throughout history,” it said.

Since 2000, the National Trust has designated 12 destinations each year as distinctive based on a number of criteria including architecturally significant buildings, a commitment to historic preservation and dynamic downtown areas – a list of factors that Hart said “reads like a checklist for St. Louis.”

In Missouri, only Arrow Rock, which was chosen in 2006, and Ste. Genevieve, which made the list in 2008, have won the designation in the past. St. Louis made the list on its third try.

Kitty Ratcliffe, president of the Convention & Visitors Commission, called the award “the Good Housekeeping seal of approval for heritage travel.”

From now through the end of February, the National Trust is conducting for the first time online balloting to determine which of this year’s dozen destinations will be the fan favorite. As of noon Wednesday, Rockland, Maine, was way out in front, followed by Marquette, Mich., and Chestnut Hill, Pa.

St. Louis was far back in the pack, bunched with spots like Huntsville, Ala., and The Crooked Road, a heritage music trail in Virginia.

Slay and Hart noted that St. Louis is the largest city represented on this year’s list, and many of its historic neighborhoods – Soulard, Lafayette Square, the Central West End and others -- are as large as some of the other places winning the 2010 designation. The mayor praised groups like the Landmarks Association for helping to preserve buildings that are historically and architecturally significant and helping convert them to new uses, such as lofts downtown that used to be part of the garment district.

“Our skyline is easily recognizable,” Slay said. “St. Louis is a city that works with its resources. I’ll put our efforts up against any other city in America,

“It’s something we all know about here, but we take it for granted. Too often, we don’t appreciate all the positive things we have to offer.”

Preservationists were not happy to learn earlier this week that the White House budget for 2011 had eliminated funding for two grant programs – Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America. In an interview, Hart said that several Missouri sites had benefited from the grants and he hoped that funds could be restored as Congress worked through the budget process.

“We’re in tough economic times,” he said, “and obviously cuts need to be made. But renovation of buildings is the greenest kind of construction and produces more jobs than other construction, plus it has other benefits.”

Hart also noted the economic benefits of travel by people who like to visit historic sites.

“It’s not like any of these historic sites that receive the grants have to pass any litmus test first,” he said. “They have already been recognized for their historic significance.”

In addition to St. Louis and other sites mentioned earlier, the dozen on this year’s list of distinctive designations are Fort Collins, Colo., Provincetown, Mass., Simsbury, Conn., and Bastrop, Texas. You can read about them all here: https://www.preservationnation.org/travel-and-sites/travel/dozen-distinctive-destinations/

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