Athens receives prestigious preservation award

The Athens-Clarke County unified government website lists accolades that the city has received. This list is extensive and includes titles like “Best Place to Recapture Your Youth” from Fortune and “College Music Scene That Rocks” from Rolling Stone. Now the ACC webmaster can chalk up another one.


Athens has been named one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations for 2009.


The other 11 cities honored with this designation are Santa Barbara, Calif., Saugatuck-Douglas, Mich., Virginia City, Nev., Santa Fe, N.M., Buffalo, N.Y., Lititz, Pa., Bristol R.I., Hot Springs, S.D., Franklin, Tenn., Fort Worth, Texas and Lake Geneva, Wis.


Many of the distinguished cities are not widely recognized. The destinations are not chosen solely for their night life or sightseeing opportunities. Honored cities meet a list of criteria that many travelers overlook.


Distinctive Destinations “offer an authentic visitor experience by combining dynamic downtowns, cultural diversity, attractive architecture, cultural landscapes and a strong commitment to historic preservation and revitalization,” according to the Dozen Distinctive Destinations website.


Athens is the fourth city in Georgia to be designated. Jekyll Island, Thomasville and Macon precede it. This year marks a decade of Dozen Distinctive Designations awards.


The National Trust for Historic Preservation is the most renowned organization in its field, and their awards carry high levels of prestige.


President Harry Truman signed The National Trust for Historic Preservation into law in 1949. The purpose of the institution is to provide “leadership, education, advocacy and resources to save America’s diverse historic places and revitalize communities,” according to the National Trust website.


Representatives from the Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau, Welcome Center and Heritage Foundation coauthored the nomination form. The exhaustive application covers nearly every aspect of Athens culture, from historic home restoration to downtown shopping.


“Nestled just below the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the vibrant college town of Athens, Georgia is known for its unique blend of traditional heritage and trend-setting Southern culture,” the application reads.


Letters of support were submitted by Athens Downtown Development Authority, R.E.M. manager Bertis Downs, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, Mayor Heidi Davison and Georgia Department of Labor Commissioner Michael L. Thurmond.


“Thank you for the opportunity to share what is so special about Athens,” Mayor Davison said in her letter. “A few years before his death, our favorite hometown poet, John Seawright said, ‘If I find a better place, I’ll go there.’”


Mayor Davison accepted the award on behalf of Athens. She was presented a plaque from the National Trust at a ceremony held at the Taylor-Grady House, a National Historic Landmark.


Athens will benefit in several ways from this award.


There may be no discernable changes in historic preservation practices, but people will “acknowledge the value of historic preservation and the value of the work the Heritage Foundation promotes,” Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation executive director Amy Kissane said.


Historic preservation is a painstaking and costly endeavor. Athens Preservation Planner Amber Eskew believes that the recognition from this award will garner the interest and funds needed to sustain preservation projects.


“This designation offers recognition to the importance of historic preservation which will help to ensure the continued support for these programs from our citizens and our government officials,” she said.


Kissane also anticipates an increase in tourism in Athens.


“Having this award, we get a good amount of free publicity,” she said. “We are featured on a section on their website. We will be in the Preservation magazine. There are 11 other communities, and most of them have run stories about their own destination, but typically they list the other communities.”


She acknowledged that people are not traveling as much due to the poor economy, but she did not discount the people within the region who will make weekend and day trips to Athens.


“Athens is an ideal hub for quick and easy excursions to nearby areas that showcase the best of Georgia’s natural resources and attractions,” the Dozen Distinctive Destinations website reads. 


The Heritage Foundation is organizing a year of special events, including tours of the elements that made Athens worthy of the title “Distinctive Destination,” to celebrate the honor and to draw more tourism to the Classic City.


“Heritage tourists spend more money and they stay longer,” Welcome Center director Evelyn Reece said. “The marketing value of the award is beneficial. With the economic downturn, this could not be better timing.”


2 Comments on “Athens receives prestigious preservation award”

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