Posted on July 28, 2022
By Tia Lyons
El Dorado News-Times
The El Dorado Historic District Commission is officially the number one historic district commission in the nation.
The EHDC has been named the 2022 “Commission of the Year” by the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions.
The win was announced July 15 during an awards ceremony at the 2022 NAPC Forum. The biennial forum was held July 13 – 17 in Cincinnati.
Commissioners learned in the spring that the EHDC had been nominated as the “Commission of the Year,” one of several categories in the NAPC’s Commission Excellence Awards program.
The Lakota Group — an Illinois-based urban planning and design firm which drafted the city’s comprehensive historic preservation plan, a first for the city of El Dorado, in 2020 — submitted the nomination to the NAPC.
Iain Montgomery, certified local government coordinator for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, accepted the award on behalf of the EHDC.
The EHDC also serves as the city’s Certified Local Government.
El Dorado is one of approximately 20 CLG communities in the state. CLGs partner with the state and federal governments to preserve local, historic resources.
While presenting an overview of the citywide historic preservation plan to the El Dorado Kiwanis Club in September of 2020, Elizabeth Eggleston, executive director of the EHDC, and Douglas Kaarre, of The Lakota Group, explained that the year-long planning and preparation process included site visits and driving/windshield tours of the city with Lakota team members.
“We’ve really enjoyed working in this community,” Kaarre said at the time, adding that The Lakota Group was impressed with local historic preservation strides that had already been made and those that were underway to preserve the city’s history and heritage.
To submit the nomination for the NAPC award, Lakota compiled letters of support from Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer; Steve Biernecki, executive director of the South Arkansas Historical Preservation Society and a member of the EHDC; Beth Brumley, executive director of Main Street El Dorado; and Catherine Barrier, director of the Capitol Zoning District Commission and former state certified local government coordinator.
The EHDC later took and submitted photos of local, historic points of interest to be included in the presentation for the nomination.
Upon learning about the NAPC nomination in April, EHDC members noted that they would be competing with other historic district commissions across the country, including those in larger cities, for the “Commission of the Year” award.
“So, we’re being recognized for all of our diligence and hard work as a commission,” Eggleston said at the time. “I don’t want to get our hopes up just to be let down but I’d like to think it’s an honor just to be nominated.”
Those hopes were upheld earlier this month when EHDC members found out that El Dorado would receive the award during the NAPC Forum.
Commissioners remained tight-lipped about the matter during a regular meeting July 14 , saying they could not announce the win until the EHDC and other award winners were officially recognized and the awards presented during the forum in Cincinnati.
Eggleston said this week that the plaque that was presented for the “Commission of the Year” award is with the AHPP in Little Rock and local commissioners will make arrangements to pick up the hardware and bring it home to El Dorado, possibly next month.
Since the city’s historic preservation plan was completed two years ago, the EHDC has been actively working to implement its recommendations — efforts that were cited in the NAPC award nomination.
EHDC members have initiated two projects that were prioritized in the plan — Determination of Eligibility (DOE)/Cultural Resources and inventories for surveys in three neighborhoods: Country Club Colony, Retta Brown and Mellor Park, Forest Lawn/ Eastridge and a small section of the McKinney subdivision, including some un-platted properties.
The surveys will help determine if the neighborhoods will be eligible for nominations to the National Register of Historic Places, either as districts or with individually-listed properties.
The work is being covered by Certified Local Government grants that were funneled through the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program.
Since 2020, the city of El Dorado has received the two largest CLG subgrants to ever be awarded in the state.
The group initially received a grant of $42,000 to develop the comprehensive historic preservation plan.
The grant was bolstered by a $10,000 match from the El Dorado Works’ tax, a one-cent sales tax initiative that is geared toward economic development, municipal infrastructure and quality-of-life projects.
The match was not a necessary component of the grant, but the additional funding helped to cover the cost of the contract with Lakota and demonstrated the city’s support of the effort, historic district commissioners and city officials said.
In 2021, the city received a second CLG in the amount of $49,049.
The largest portion of the grant, $42,500, was used to begin the DOE survey for the Mellor Park residential area and Forest Lawn/ Eastridge subdivision.
Additional CLG grants, totaling more than $22,000, were awarded for DOE surveys for the Retta Brown and Country Club Colony neighborhoods.
Eggleston said the EHDC is working with the city to close out the grants with the AHPP.
The EHDC is now setting its sights on an African American context project, also a priority that was recommended in the citywide preservation plan.
The African American context will identify notable Black people, businesses, churches, neighborhoods, landmarks, etc., in El Dorado
Anyone who is interested in participating in the project may send an email to Eggleston at email@example.com.