by Michael R. Allen
My coverage is a little late, but I wanted to give a shout out to the 50 people who demonstrated against demolition of historic commercial buildings last Friday in downtown Edwardsville. The Belleville News-Democrat (perhaps the region’s best daily paper) has coverage here.
The bottom line: a law firm wants to demolish six small-scale storefront buildings now home to small businesses. These buildings are all historic, with some older than 100 years. However, some of the buildings were reclad or greatly altered over time. Indeed, some of them are barely recognizable as historic buildings.
However, the tenants and others oppose the move not just because these buildings are old. The opposition stems from recognition that downtown Edwardsville needs buildings like these to retain small business and vital street scapes. Giant new office buildings take away not only the low rents that foster commerce, but the differentiation in a block face that makes it a welcoming environment. Preservation here is not essentially about saving something old, or something pretty, but something that encourages a mode of business conducive to building community. Maybe someday someone will restore the facades of these buildings, but even if that never happens the buildings are working just fine.
Downtown Edwardsville’s commercial district has seen a resurgence of small business activity, and retaining storefronts is essential to future growth. Like many downtowns, Edwardsville’s has plenty of surface lots where a new office building could be built. There is no reason why the lawyers seeking their own building and the small businesses cannot coexist.