ELKHART — Tim Shelly doesn’t have to look far to find examples of historic preservation.
The view from a conference room window in the Chase Bank building in downtown Elkhart where he works as an attorney, looks out upon the sparkling Lerner Theatre, recently honored by Indiana Landmarks for its historical renovations. And further south, the historic State Division neighborhood can be seen where city leaders are working to revive a dilapidated area.
And while Shelly has had an interest in those and other local projects, his hand in historical preservation has taken on a slightly elevated approach since he was recently named chairman of the board for Indiana Landmarks, the largest nonprofit state-wide historical preservation group in the nation.
The group has a full-time director and a staff of about 60 people who provide a presence in all of Indiana’s 92 counties.
Shelly, 52, said his immediate goal is to implement a series of new initiatives that include plans for a new capital campaign and establishment of a revolving loan fund.
His outlook on historical preservation comes from a respect for art, whether it’s a painting or an architectural design.
That interest began when he and his wife were looking to buy their first home about 25 years ago when they came upon a house on Riverside Drive near Strong Avenue that was nearly 100 years old and needed some work.
Given the choice of remodeling a home with a different, modern look or one that stayed true to its origin, Shelly prefers the latter.
“An architect is a much better artist at designing something,” Shelly said. “I’m always afraid if I try to do something different to an architect’s piece of work, it’s just not going to be as good.”
Shelly first began his involvement in historical preservation when he became active with the city of Elkhart’s Historical and Cultural Preservation Commission, which had a hand in establishing the historical status of the State Division neighborhood.
The commission works hand-in-hand with Indiana Landmarks, and Shelly started becoming involved with the group about 20 years ago.
Since then, he has served as the head of one of the nine regional districts and has been on the state board for the past seven years.
Indiana Landmark’s mission is simple: “The preservation of meaningful places,” according to Shelly.
Much of the Landmark’s work involves preserving buildings by establishing restrictions on how the exterior can be altered. Depending on who owns the property, it’s done with either an easement or covenant.
The group either purchases specific properties or works with existing owners to establish the restrictions.
The group also seeks out properties and works with cities in redevelopment projects. That’s the case in Evansville, where the group is working with the city to redevelop an old bus station into a multi-use facility that will include a local office for Indiana Landmarks.
“We believe it is important that you eat your own cooking,” Shelly said. “We felt it was important that each of our offices has an old building that we occupy.”
Shelly previously worked as president of Downtown Elkhart Inc. and is pleased with the direction the city is moving.
“I think you’re starting to see a little bit of the critical mass necessary gathering in the downtown,” Shelly said.
Efforts to save the Lerner turned out as good as anyone could have hoped, he said.
He also sees some progress in the State Division area where a young couple just recently purchased a home through Indiana Landmarks. At one point the large house was the home of Stemm Lawson Funeral Home.
Indiana Landmarks renovated some of the exterior, including work on a wrap-around porch before putting it on the market.
The two-street neighborhood, though, needs plenty more renovations.
Shelly says he’d like to see the area revitalized in the same way the historic Washington Street neighborhood has been in South Bend.
But that’s a long way down the road. Easily, 10 to 15 years.
“Revitalizing an old part of a downtown area, whether it’s South Bend, Indianapolis or Elkhart – it’s just a slow, glacial paced process,” Shelly said.