- Associated Press - Friday, October 24, 2014

LUDINGTON, Mich. (AP) — Ludington made an impression on Mara MacKay and then on a panel of visitors, such an impression the team chose the community to be the host of a new venture - History Prize.

Think ArtPrize but for history buffs, tens of thousands to potentially hundreds of thousands of history buffs.

It is estimated 100,000 visitors will come to Ludington during the first 19-day event in June 2016, according to the Ludington Daily News ( http://bit.ly/1wwiTLC ).

People from around the country will bring collections, re-enactments and fixed exhibits to compete for $150,000 in prize money - divided up into three prizes in each of three categories - in the first year, with the event held each year in Ludington, much like ArtPrize is held each year in Grand Rapids.

MacKay, a Michigan history author from Hurley, Wisconsin/Ironwood, Michigan, said she was inspired by Rick DeVos, who started ArtPrize.

She came up with the idea and brought it to the 2014 Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism, winning the Jump Start contest and $5,000 to get her started.

More seed money has since been donated for a total of $30,000 so far, with a fundraising campaign goal of $1 million by December 2015.

The money is expected to come from a variety of sources, corporate gifts, grants, clubs, merchandise sales and private donors.

The Ludington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau has committed to give 3 percent of the total.

MacKay had been to Ludington as an author pitching her books to Book Mark bookstore owners Bob and Carole Kosanovich, who went beyond her expectations in welcoming her to the community even though she had come unannounced.

She nominated Ludington among the nine cities to compete for the bid along with Sault Ste. Marie, Marquette, Traverse City, Muskegon, Holland, Grand Rapids, Bay City and Detroit.

They all had strong qualities and were “wonderful and vibrant” in their own ways, MacKay said.

“Across the board, Ludington was strong,” she said.

Some communities, like Holland, already had such a strong brand, Tulip Time, the history theme wasn’t just a right fit. Other communities discussed good ideas and plans, but Ludington showed they were already in place, MacKay said.

Other venues had more money and larger venues, but that didn’t trump Ludington’s authenticity as a community embracing its history, she said.

When it was time to visit officially for History Prize, MacKay met with Brandy Henderson, executive director and CEO of the CVB, and Dr. Bill Anderson, chairman of the Mason County Cultural Economic Task Force.

They had a full day-and-a-half plan and showed her everything from the SS Badger to the Western Michigan Old Engine Club, a cemetery walk with Mike Nagle acting as Justus Stearns, lunch at ReJoyce Bed and Breakfast and House of Flavors, and a night at Cartier Mansion. She was even here for the launch of the Barn Quilt Trail, with a hoisting of a quilt square on the Jorissen Barn at Historic White Pine Village.

That time in Ludington showed her the community is authentic and already has a cultural tourism plan in place.

In fact, the community does.

Mason County already has a Cultural Economic Development Task Force and has been working its plan, establishing a Lumber Heritage Trail with 14 stops including lumber baron homes and cemeteries, to the Barn Quilt Trail and Ag Trail, and the start to a Sculpture Trail and plans for a Maritime Heritage Trail.

The Mason County Cultural Trails offer a series of self-guided, themed driving routes with audio-visual narration.

Ludington is an authentic community where history is a part of its every fiber - from maritime to agricultural, to Great Lakes resort/tourism history. Its history is all encompassing, making it a natural fit,” MacKay said.

A major factor, she said, was the way agencies and community members were working together, collaborating.

MacKay, who lives in Hurley, Wisconsin/Ironwood, Michigan, isn’t kidding that she believes in Ludington.

She plans to move here with her children Saige, 15, and Aiden, 13. Her college-aged daughter is a student at Grand Valley State University.

MacKay was one of a team of people who worked together to decide on a location for History Prize. There were five reviewers and two advisers from a variety of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds and who ranged in age from 20 to 70. They worked closely with the ArtPrize organizers to make some early decisions about the structure for History Prize.

MacKay expects the name will change as “it stands alone,” she said.

She has seen estimates of 600,000 history enthusiasts in the United States, people she sees as the target audience for the event.

Ludington, she said, is “a portal to the past. The community is a match for the project.”

“It’s a huge compliment even to have been considered,” Henderson said.

She saw MacKay’s original presentation at the governor’s conference then heard from her that Ludington had been nominated as a potential site.

She and Anderson came up with a plan and drew in dozens of community members who were helpful in sharing Ludington’s strengths.

With the competition including larger communities, it didn’t seem likely Ludington would win.

“We said, ‘This is who we were up against,’ she said of the competition,” Henderson said, but noted, “We did everything that we could.”

Henderson said she and the CVB board were shocked and in awe to hear from MacKay Thursday that Ludington was selected.

“You think about all of the great events that we already have here and this will trump all of them,” she said.

“It’s a huge win for our businesses and our community,” Henderson said.

She expects the economic benefit to reach throughout Mason County and beyond, to the entire region.

History Prize, or whatever it will become known by in the future, will draw attention to the community and highlight what’s already being done in promoting cultural tourism.

“It really elevates what we’re doing,” Henderson said.

Anderson, former director of the Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries, has been touting the importance of cultural tourism for years. He couldn’t be more pleased about the news Ludington will host History Prize.

“I think it’s great for the community and supports all the cultural and historic development that is happening,” Anderson said. “I think it will have an important impact and raise the profile of Ludington as a historic destination.

“It will bring people here,” he said. “They will come back and they will tell others.”

He described that as “leverage value” in raising awareness about Ludington and Mason County venues such as Historic White Pine Village, Ludington State Park, the Western Michigan Old Engine Club and the new Port of Ludington Maritime Museum expected to open in 2016.

In the first year, there will be three prizes in three categories for a total of nine cash prizes totaling $150,000.

The public will vote on their favorites.

With such a big audience expected, the CVB will be reaching out to surrounding communities to help the area accommodate the crowds, building partnerships with establishments from here to Muskegon, a 60-mile radius.

They’re talking up to 12,000 hotel room nights.

The potential economic impact is estimated at $5 to 10 million to the region.

One of the first steps to prepare will be to educate the community, the region, the state, the Midwest and history enthusiasts everywhere about the event. At the same time, the CVB will start working with potential venues, from stores to performances spaces to parks.

“This is a new venture for our community,” Henderson said. “It’s an incredible opportunity. And change is good.”

Planners will elect a governing board to complement a statewide advisory group of Michigan historians, directors of regional history centers and museums and the Historical Society of Michigan, artists and ArtPrize representatives.

Registration for exhibitors and venues is expected to open in the summer of 2015.

___

Information from: Ludington Daily News, http://www.ludingtondailynews.com

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