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Historic District Commission searching for best way to market local amenities

by Tia Lyons | October 19, 2021 at 12:00 a.m.

When the state of Arkansas amended the terms of a Certified Local Government (CLG) grant that had been awarded to the city of El Dorado, the El Dorado Historic District Commission (EHDC) planned to request funding from the El Dorado Works tax to complete a project that had been eliminated from the grant.

Commissioners had agreed to use a $22,648 CLG grant that was awarded in 2020 to conduct Determination of Eligibility (DOE)/Cultural Resources surveys and inventories for the Retta Brown and Country Club Colony (CCC) neighborhoods -- both of which were recommended as "priority" projects in a citywide preservation plan that was drafted last year.

DOE surveys help to determine if local historic districts and/or individually listed properties are eligible for a nomination to the National Register for Historic Places.

Of the $22,648, $9,660 was to have been earmarked for the Retta Brown subdivision and $6,440 for CCC.

Members of the El Dorado Historic District Commission learned in September that the DOE survey for Country Club Colony -- which is bordered by North West Avenue, 19th Street, Calion Road and the El Dorado Golf and Country Club -- was going to cost more than expected.

In turn, the state directed the grant toward the CCC survey and asked the EHDC to submit the Retta Brown proposal in an application for the next CLG grant cycle.

The Retta Brown neighborhood surrounds the former elementary school of the same name and sits on the north side of East Main between Dixie Drive and North Byrd Street.

On Oct. 14, Elizabeth Eggleston, executive director of the EHDC, said the state had amended the terms of the CLG grant once again to include more money for the Retta Brown project.

Eggleston said she notified Commissioner Sara Coffman that the group would no longer need to request funding from the El Dorado Works Board, which administers the city's one-cent sales tax for economic development.

Coffman is also a member of the EWB.

Funding for other projects

Eggleston told EHDC members Oct. 12 that she did not want the commission to lose an opportunity to request El Dorado Works' funding for other historic preservation projects.

"It's long been my dream to have signage in our historic districts," Eggleston said.

The city's commercial historic district, which was listed on the National Register in 2003, largely covers downtown El Dorado, including the city blocks surrounding the Union County Courthouse.

The district extends east on Main Street and south along Washington Avenue.

There are two residential historic districts in El Dorado -- the Murphy-Hill and Mahony districts, which were added the National Register in 2007 and 2011, respectively.

The Murphy-Hill district includes 76 houses and is located just north of the city's Central Business District. The area is roughly bordered by East Fifth, North Jefferson, East Peach, North Madison and East Faulkner.

The Mahony district includes 94 buildings that contribute to its historical significance.

The 14-acre area extends north and east of the Murphy-Hill district and its boundaries are Champagnolle Road, the area just east of North Madison, East Fifth and the railroad tracks near North Lee.

A DOE survey and inventory is underway for 326 properties in the Mellor, McKinney, Bodenhamer, Forest Lawn and Eastridge subdivisions.

The work is also being covered by a CLG grant.

Street-sign toppers, provided by the City Shop, were added to a few intersections within the existing residential districts to denote them as historic areas but Eggleston said the toppers are worn and need upgrading.

She also said many people do not notice the toppers and are not aware of the city's historic districts.

Historic district commissioners agreed that they need to raise awareness about and stress the importance of historic preservation efforts and resources in El Dorado -- also a recommendation in the citywide historic preservation plan.

How best to broaden their outreach sparked an extensive discussion and debate among commissioners.

Modern and traditional marketing

Coffman asked Commissioner Steve Biernecki his thoughts on the matter.

"I think we need to do something great instead of trying to do 85 things well," Biernecki said. "There is already signage and the reality is, when you're driving down the road, a small sign is not going to capture your attention."

"We should look at how to digitize it, how to modernize it and ... grab people's attention to come to historic district," he continued.

Biernecki, executive director of the South Arkansas Historical Preservation Society, suggested that the EHDC come up with ideas to market El Dorado's historical amenities within a 75 mile-radius "so that people in Camden, Magnolia, Farmerville (Louisiana) and Ruston (Louisiana) know what we have from a historic preservation standpoint."

"I don't know if putting up more signs is necessarily going to accomplish what we want to accomplish," he said.

EHDC Chairman Ken Bridges said the EHDC could work with the Arkansas Department of Transportation to place signs along the city's gateways, highways that run through El Dorado -- including West Avenue/U.S. 167B, Hillsboro/U.S. 82B and Main Street/U.S. 63 -- that would direct visitors to the historic districts.

Eggleston noted that a sign designating El Dorado as a Preserve America community was previously posted on East Main, just west of the U.S. 167 overpass, but the sign was removed years ago and never located.

Preserve America is a U.S. government program that encourages and supports efforts to preserve the country's cultural and natural heritage.

Creating social media accounts with such activity as monthly social media blasts featuring historic buildings, neighborhoods and other local sites was another suggestion that was proffered by Biernecki.

Coffman said the EHDC has helped to print walking tour brochures for historic points of interest in the city's downtown.

"There's one for downtown but not one for the rest of what we've got," said Coffman.

Eggleston said the brochures do not include the residential historic districts.

She also said the walking tour brochures were created years ago, in part, because Welcome Centers around the state were contacting her and other local officials to request materials with information about El Dorado to place in the centers.

Biernecki contended that such items, including signs and printed brochures and maps, are "antiquated."

Commissioner Linda Rathbun said she feels there is merit to putting together a multi-faceted marketing campaign that includes a mix of signage, printed materials and digital media.

"That's hitting a different market than people who might want to walk and really understand the history behind the district and they don't use Facebook," Rathbun said.

Biernecki countered that "the younger generation" may not be aware of local historical facts and resources and they primarily get their information through digital/electronic means.

"It's not that they don't care. It's that they don't even know to care and with the historic district commission, how do we join with the city, the (El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce) to make a much bigger impact from a digital standpoint?" Biernecki asked.

He said he did not disagree with Rathbun and he pointed to Bridges' suggestion about the highway signs, saying the EHDC could take traditional marketing pieces and make them "very focused," a call to action to direct visitors and local residents toward the city's historical amenities.

Biernecki said "people get excited about walking tour brochures" and commissioners discussed possible locations in which people may easily pick up the brochures.

Coffman said she also feels signage is an important component to a marketing campaign that includes ideas from all EHDC members.

Rathbun said the group could check with other communities to see how they market their historic amenities.

Biernecki referred to the citywide preservation plan, saying that the plan recommends other projects, such as the African American context, in which notable people, neighborhoods and buildings in the Black community are documented and preserved.

"We have lots of ideas," he said.

Print Headline: Historic District Commission searching for best way to market local amenities

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