Annapolis meeting to discuss tourism in historic cities

October 24, 1995|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF

Call it ye olde historic headache.

Tour buses belch exhaust on cobbled streets, horse-drawn carriages send smells through trendy neighborhoods, bed-and-breakfasts crowd residents in Colonial districts and bars pulse late at night beside national landmarks.

Annapolis -- which has had its share of problems -- will be the site of a national conference next month aimed at resolving tensions between tourists and townspeople in downtown historic districts.

"People need to realize it's not just Annapolis that's having a hard time right now," said Stephanie Carroll, director of preservation services for the Historic Annapolis Foundation. "Everybody's feeling these growing pains."

That group and the National Trust for Historic Preservation will hold the conference Nov. 16-17.

Participants from business, preservation and tourism groups representing at least 10 cities -- from Santa Fe, N.M., to Litchfield, Conn. -- will discuss the challenges of marketing residential historic districts to tourists while maintaining the quality of life in the same neighborhoods.

A decade ago, preservationists turned to tourism to revive historic downtowns as main streets went out of business.

Now, new troubles are arising as more vacationers and day-trippers arrive in historic cities at an increase of 10 percent a year.

"Ten years ago we were still in a honeymoon period," said Patricia Wilson, a regional director with the trust. "Now there are new strains."

For example, in San Antonio, where nearly 10 million tourists have visited this year, the riverfront is becoming an area for nightclubs.

A few months ago, a Hard Rock Cafe opened a few short blocks from the Alamo. A bar down the street recently did $15,000 in business in a single $1-drink night.

Some preservationists say cities are hitting the maximum number of tourists they can handle -- and not always for reasons having to do with history.

"What we're seeing here is a tourism that doesn't really have anything to do with Charleston's historic district but with pop entertainment and things you could find anywhere," said Jonathan Poston, director of preservation for the Historic Charleston Foundation in South Carolina.

Recently, one of Charleston's railroad buildings, an 1850s depot that is a national historic landmark, was converted into a musical variety theater, despite the protests of residents.

But historic cities also boast preservation victories, and they have a record of copying each other's successes.

"We don't want this just to be a gripe session," said Ms. Carroll, the conference organizer. "We're very committed to discussing what works well."

For instance, Savannah, Ga., modeled a tour-bus ordinance after one in Charleston, and San Antonio is studying bed-and-breakfast restrictions used in Annapolis. Nantucket, Mass., is good for advice on moped traffic, and Charlottesville, Va., knows how to keep an old five-and-dime in town if anyone is interested, preservationists say.

As they prepare for the conference, participants might do well to remember that even the most pungent problem has a solution.

"The horse-drawn carriages are not an issue like they used to be," said Sally Buchanan, president of the San Antonio Conservation Society. "Nowadays, the horses most definitely wear diapers."

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