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Historical Significance

Consultant Brooks may help
Madison tailor branding campaign

Opportunity has arrived for city leaders to step up

 

 

(February 2008)

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Don Ward

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 city’s 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. Fife’s 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 Service’s Midwest Regional Office.
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 city.
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 city’s 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 Madison’s leadership has dramatically changed in the months – and yes, years – since the city’s National Historic Landmark District status was announced. Madison’s 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 a city.
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 – Madison’s 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 nation’s 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 board.
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, more tourists!
Seattle-based Brooks, who was heralded as the keynote speaker at last year’s Hoosier Hospitality Conference in Indianapolis, has a time-tested strategy that he follows when evaluating a city’s 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 city’s economy.
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 don’t 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.

 

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