They say it is often hard
to see the forest for all the trees.
That seemed to be the case in Madison, Ind., when, after nearly three
years of celebrating the citys designation to National Historic
Landmark District status an esteemed honor of which most cities
could only dream many local residents and business owners are still
wondering, So what?
Boasting the largest historic district in the nation with more than 2,000
properties in a 133-block area, Madison was elevated to national status
in preservation circles with the designation, which by the way took nearly
a decade of work by consultant Camille Fife and her tireless researchers
to achieve. Fifes company, The Westerly Group, created the digital
images, including the film clips from The Town for the presentation.
Historic Madison Inc. undertook the nomination in 2001 through a unique
public-private partnership supported by grants from the Jefferson County
Commissioners, though its Historic Preservation Advisory Committee, the
Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Historic Preservation
and Archaeology, and the National Park Services Midwest Regional
Officials from those agencies and dozens of local residents celebrated
the award at a party at the Livery Stable in April 2005. A bronze plaque
was unveiled that was later erected at the Broadway Fountain, located
in the heart of the city.
Business owners joined the celebration then hurried back to their shops
to await the onslaught of tourists who would surely flock to the small
town of 12,500 residents just to catch a glimpse of the well-preserved
In interviews following the designation party, local preservation officials
were hard-pressed to pinpoint the significance of the award, other than
to say it was well-deserved. City officials rounded up various community
leaders to begin discussing a plan to market the designation. The effort
later stalled when planning of the citys 2009 bicentennial celebration
and Madison Bicentennial Park along the riverfront overtook it. Officials
decided that any future branding campaign should go hand-in-hand with
the 200-year bicentennial celebration.
Perhaps that decision was a correct one. But the landscape of Madisons
leadership has dramatically changed in the months and yes,
years since the citys National Historic Landmark District
status was announced. Madisons mayor of 13 years, Al Huntington,
was voted out of office last November, and a newly anointed mayor, Tim
Armstrong, is just now getting his footing in the business of running
It may take a while for preservation to rise to the level of importance
among the day-to-day affairs of garbage pickup, traffic congestion, recycling
efforts, economic development and, of course, the animal shelter. But
given time and in this case, money Madisons claim
to national status as one of the most historically preserved cities in
American may eventually find its place.
The time may have finally arrived with the recent Downtown Enhancement
Grant award of $20,000 by the state of Indiana to help Madison develop
a branding image. In addition, Roger Brooks, considered one of the nations
top tourism consultants, is scheduled to arrive in town in April to evaluate
the city and present a report and recommendations for branding. His visit
is being jointly funded by the Indiana Tourism Office and the local tourism
Local tourism officials are hoping that Brooks suggestions will
be used to tailor a branding campaign that will lead to better signage,
marketing literature, a coordinated advertising theme and, of course,
Seattle-based Brooks, who was heralded as the keynote speaker at last
years Hoosier Hospitality Conference in Indianapolis, has a time-tested
strategy that he follows when evaluating a citys tourism merits.
His recipe for success includes such tenets as creating a Tourism Development
and Marketing Plan; possessing a critical mass core of retail
shops and restaurants; promoting the unique; telling stories at local
museums and attractions; training front-line employees who greet visitors
to be knowledgeable and helpful; branding via a particular image; and,
of course, frequency in advertising.
Even as you read this column, Brooks already has his secret shoppers working
the retail shops and restaurants of Madison. Their experiences will form
the basis for his research. Brooks will then visit the town over a two-day
period, after which he will present his report, according to Madison Area
Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Linda Lytle.
The Brooks formula for success, along with grant money to put his recommendations
into action, may finally be the key to placing economic value on preservation.
So maybe the long wait is nearly over. Madison area residents, business
owners, restaurateurs and tourism officials will soon witness the power
of preservation as an economic tool. Put simply, they may someday begin
to see more heads in beds and dollars coming into their cash registers
all because of the campaign by a few visionaries over the
past few decades to keep the chain restaurants and hotels out of the downtown
and to help promote the spirit of preservation among home owners.
The competition for tourists among small and mid-sized cities throughout
the Midwest continues to intensify, but Madison, with its wealth of architecture,
scenic beauty and river history, would seem to be in a good position to
remain a leader. It cannot rest on its laurels. Neighboring cities are
working hard to rise up and claim their share of tourism dollars. And
in these tight financial times, there is only so much expendable
income at stake.
Marketing, branding whatever the latest term being used these
days Madison will need all the tools it can muster to compete
in the global economy. And yes, tourism is a vibrant part of any citys
Perhaps it is time we knock down a few trees to better see the forest
around us. Such dynamic moves will certainly take strong organization
and bold leadership.
Just dont knock down any old buildings.
Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout.
Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email him at: Don@RoundAboutMadison.com.