Fifteen months ago, the newly organized Hyrum Historic Preservation Commission (or HYPCO) met for the first time with the primary objective to address the exterior of Elite Hall. Since then, we have been awarded a $9,000 grant, which paid for an invaluable structural and feasibility report, surveyed the community to gauge interest, formed a committee of volunteer citizens dedicated to the complete restoration of the building, commenced fundraising efforts, solicited exterior restoration bids, put together a phased plan for restoration, and built interest and momentum for this project through press coverage including six Herald Journal articles.
We have a vision. As outlined in chapter five of the General Plan, Hyrum City understands that “A good community image can have positive long-term economic benefits for the city. Promotion should focus on the community as a great place to live, work, and play, which offers opportunities and services in all areas of life. …Beautification efforts on Main Street… will have significant impact on improving the community image. …Through such efforts, new residents, including both work force and retirement-aged people, will be attracted to making Hyrum their home. More travelers will look to Hyrum as a nice, fun destination rather than a place they bypass. More businesses will see Hyrum as an attractive community in which to do business.”
Today, Hyrum City is poised to resuscitate its downtown heartbeat. With the modern library, museum, and city office building, historic cabins, civic center, and the grassy city square with its beautiful gazebo and pavilion, this community has a natural and accommodating gathering place. Downtown Main Street can be an unmatched cultural center and the potential of the Elite Hall to become a jewel of the city is immense. It is a unique historic structure and beloved by many. As it stands, it is a functional, comfortable building used by dancers, athletes, and families. However, we see it becoming the destination it was one hundred years ago.
On September 3, 1915, the headline of the South Cache Courier read: “Probably the greatest event of the season or one that marks an epoch in Hyrum’s history was the opening of our new dance hall…The beautiful hall in all its newness and freshness, with its glassy floor, its excellent lighting, and splendid music, with the hundreds of beautifully gowned dancers, was a sight long to be remembered…All declared it the best dance hall in this part of the country…‘Elite,’ a very appropriate name, meaning, the best of all, was chosen for our new hall.”
The Elite Hall was not only a center for dozens of community events from gold and green balls to basketball games to political assemblies, it was a destination, bringing people to Hyrum from throughout the valley and the region. Even during the depths of the Great Depression, it’s value was recognized by Hyrum City when, “On September 12, 1934 Hyrum City purchased the Elite Hall …[and] Hyrum City officials [were] determined to keep it in use for the benefit and good of the public.” Home in the Hills of Bridgerland (1969), page 269.
Today, as outlined by the “Vision Statement” in Chapter One of Hyrum City’s General Plan, “Hyrum is a safe and friendly community with a small-town feel and a positive, progressive future. Hyrum is a diverse and well-planned community that provides a healthy atmosphere for all residents through all stages of life, and that values its historic and cultural heritage...” The restoration of Elite Hall and its incorporation into the city’s cultural center is perfectly in line with this vision statement. Additionally, the Community Preservation Policies, which are policies and objectives derived from the goals within the plan and are intended to guide city and community decisions in preserving the atmosphere of Hyrum, list the three following points: 10. Support historic preservation efforts throughout the community. 12. Continue economic revitalization of the downtown area and Hyrum City square. 16. Provide cultural opportunities to enhance residents’ quality of life.
Additionally, under Land Use in Chapter Two, the General Plan lists one of the key planning issues for downtown as “Preserving historic buildings.” In Chapter Four, which addresses Urban Design, under “Street Beautification” it states that “Main Street, Highway 101, and Highway 165 are the most important corridors to the Hyrum community in terms of economics, historic heritage, and community core. … The character and success of a community is often defined by the urban design and economic vitality of the downtown area.” Additionally, under “Historic Preservation” it says that “Historic buildings and houses add much to the character of a city. Preserving history and heritage is a strong value in the Hyrum community. The historic resources of Downtown Hyrum are a vital treasure of the community and these resources must be preserved and appropriately adapted for current needs. The image, character, and quality of downtown Hyrum is framed by its past.”
Four months ago when I presented the results of the feasibility study, I asked the city for support in the restoration of Elite Hall. There were several concerns and other issues that arose from that discussion. Questions regarding how to fund the project, what the citizens wanted to use the building for, what liability to the city managing this project would create, and who was going to spearhead any efforts were asked. Tonight, I have solutions to present. Remembering that (again in the general plan) “One of the objectives of the Hyrum City Historic Preservation Commission (HYPCO) is to promote the preservation and restoration of community historical structures to their original appearance,” we have put together a plan that I am proposing to you this evening, which is based off of three facts. First, the feasibility study demonstrates that a complete restoration of the building is favorable. Second, we conducted a community survey to assess the usability of the building. Third, we formed a committee of invested and talented citizens to drive the fundraising efforts for the Elite Hall.
With the phenomenal momentum and interest we currently have with this project, we want to move immediately into big-money fundraising to raise the $100,000+ we need to complete the exterior masonry restoration. As you can see, the timing is fantastic because we can use the city’s expenses in demolishing the Hawn’s buildings (including asbestos abatement and fill), parking lot installation, and lighting and landscaping improvements as city investment into the overall exterior restoration of the building.
I realize that the entire restoration is very expensive, but through the course of research and many, many, discussions over the last four months, I can say with authority that the money is out there and that this is “cheap” project in the world of restoration. However, it is very important that we form a foundation to raise the necessary money. I know that the city treasurer is currently discussing this with the auditors to get their recommendation on forming a foundation. Personally, I am involved with the Wellsville Tabernacle Foundation and again, feel like I can speak with some authority on this matter. The Elite Hall provides a text-book case for when a foundation should be formed. First, it provides an avenue to entice big-money donors. Second, it provides an entity that can continue to manage the Elite Hall once restoration is complete.
If you look at the summary of the Elite Hall survey results, you can see that four of the top six preferred uses were private events (family reunions, weddings/receptions, holiday parties, and company parties). This demonstrates the need for an entity to manage the facility once restored to absolve the city of liability issues. Additionally, once restored the Elite Hall will be a premiere event facility in Cache Valley, and really in northern Utah. There is no doubt that it will become a self-sustaining and even money-making entity. It will be imperative to have a foundation in place to manage it.
Finally, this again speaks to the General Plan. Under Chapter Five, which discusses economics, it says, “Business activity is a key component of the success of revitalization in the downtown area.” With the Elite Hall functioning as both an event venue and a cultural center, Hyrum City will enjoy the economic benefits of historic preservation. As explained in the Utah Heritage Foundation’s economic impact study, “Historic downtowns provide a natural incubator for local entrepreneurs. These businesses are central to local economic stability. Historic downtowns communicate the identity of the community. Focusing on historic downtowns provides the means for effectively and efficiently managing growth in a fiscally responsible manner.”
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