Energy and optimism prevailed as the Restore Omaha Conference celebrated its 10th anniversary during the last two days of February.
Some of the energy could be attributed to keynote speaker Bernice Radle, a passionate preservationist from Buffalo, New York. Radle talked about the preservation movement in Buffalo and how young people like her are changing the face of preservation. She also presented at morning and afternoon breakout sessions. A rising star in the preservation movement, Radle and husband Jason Wilson are featured in American Rehab Buffalo, a series that will begin airing on the DIY network in April.
Conference chair Nicole Malone said this year’s conference was “packed to the limits” with exhibitors, vendors and attendees. Nearly 340 people attended the Saturday conference. “We had 100 more attendees on Saturday from the year before. “The energy and diversity of people attending the conference this year was invigorating,” she said.
REO Invigoration chair Adam Andrews enjoyed the “passion and enthusiasm for preservation” that Radle and presenter Will O’Keefe displayed. O’Keefe, former real estate coordinator at Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, presented sessions on engagement through social media and utilizing real estate tools to save buildings. Andrews said the viewpoint that “preservation isn’t just about the buildings, it’s about the community” was validating. “We are just starting to focus more on older communities as a whole here in Omaha, and their insight and experience will serve us well.”
The opening reception February 27 brought more than 200 preservation-minded people together on a cold night to celebrate at The Pella at Blackstone. Attendees toured the new event space in the former Pella Lutheran Church at 41st and Harney Streets while enjoying food and a special “Pella Punch” created by Hap Abraham Catering, which leases the space from owner Brad Iwen. Executive Director Kristine Gerber shared the background of how the church building was saved and invited John Lund and Dan Houlihan to the stage to talk about their work in the resurgence of the 40th and Farnam area. Gerber and Radle introduced “Preservation Speed Dating” to the event, a chance for attendees to present a restoration problem they are having in front of the attendees who could offer their advice.
New exhibitors at the conference gave attendees a chance to solve problems and gain new insights. Stained Glass Craftsman out of Sioux Falls, Integrity Architectural Millwork and Midwest Woodworkers joined favorites like Eyman Plumbing and Spencerworks, which specializes in custom-built, concealed, hanging storm windows.
Popular breakout sessions included topics on Redeveloping Historic Properties, How to Refinish a Basement, Tips and Tricks to Restoring Exteriors and Researching the History of your Home. Craftsmen like window expert Tim Christensen, plaster guru Dick Grace and paint renovation specialist David Lawrence were popular with the do-it-yourself crowd.
The Restoration Jam closed out the conference, with presenters highlighting triumphs and challenges in their remodeling efforts.
Among the comments culled from attendee surveys:
- The keynote speaker gave me hope for today’s youth culture and the future of preservation and urbanism.
- I liked the demonstrations by the people who do their projects for a living and who can tell us what works and what doesn’t.
- It is valuable to see others energized about restoration, and I like learning about how others do it.
- Every conference has had a lot of good hands-on and mini-seminars but this one had plaster, finishing off the basement and multimedia, which were all very good.
- I enjoy learning techniques and getting tips from experienced professionals and other homeowners I’ve learned something new or refreshed my knowledge at each conference I’ve attended.
- There are endless topics of interest to anyone that respects Omaha’s historic environment, from glazing a window to financing a historic property, to understanding public policy that affects historic structures. There’s a core group you see there every year, but the exciting thing is seeing all the new (and mostly young) folks that have a passion for our historic urban environment.
- This was a stellar conference. Even the booths were manned by friendly and helpful vendors. Many thanks for a great conference!
- I come to gain practical, cost-effective ideas, tips, and possibly a bit of “how-to’s” on boosting the economic and aesthetic value of my 1920 Midtown home. Also, to meet vendors, contractors and other homeowners who can supply labor and material services, as well as hearing stories of people who’ve “been there, done that.”
- I am a neighborhood association president, and I hope to bring educational and activist information to my association to get them more involved in preservation.
- I attend to learn about new ways to take care of my home, to find good contractors and to learn about the architecture and history/future in Omaha.
- I really liked the “Conservation of Overlay Districts” and the “Travers Row: Rehabilitation of a Row-House District” because they were some of the few sessions not directed at homeowners. I really enjoyed the case studies linked with more of a city-planning mindset.
Plans for next year’s conference are already underway. While the south campus of Metropolitan Community College has hosted most of the conferences, organizers are looking at the MCC Fort Omaha campus as a possible location for the 2016 conference.
Click to see a video of Ruben Acosta’s opening presentation: “What Makes a Building Historically Significant.”