Metz Has Time On Her Side

June 14, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Time plays a vital role in the life of Jennifer Metz. Her avid interest in old buildings, especially the architecture of the 1920s and 1930s, is somewhat unusual for someone so young.

The 32-year-old Metz developed her deep affection for things historic and stylish in the late-1970s while growing up in a modern suburb where things were new and nondescript.

"I think that growing up in the suburbs glamorized all the historic buildings downtown. It didn't matter in what decrepit condition they were in, I thought they were actually wonderful because they were different," she said. "And I love architecture.

"I can remember that when we went anywhere, if I saw an old building I would glamorize it, and thought it was a beautiful building and it could have been nothing special."

It's impractical to doubt her love of architecture, as she wears her passion for the field on both of her professional sleeves. Metz is the chairperson of the Grand Rapids Historic Preservation Commission and vice president of the Grand Rapids Historic Council. She also belongs to the Michigan Historic Preservation Network and the Kent County Council for Historic Preservation.

But her involvement doesn't stop with her volunteer duties. Metz earns her living in the field as a principal of Past Perfect Inc., a business she owns with close friend Rebecca Smith-Hoffman.

"When I moved back to Grand Rapids from Chicago everyone kept directing me to Rebecca, saying you should really talk to Rebecca Smith-Hoffman. We became friends and we went to a daylong preservation conference in Lansing. After the conference and a couple of gin-and-tonics, the company was formed," said Metz, laughing. "It's been five years and it's been a really good partnership."

Although their affiliation has a short history, Past Perfect has already helped a long list of local architects and developers by researching the historic status of structures and consulting them on how to restore their buildings to historic specifications. Their work has made the process easier for renovators to get tax credits on investments, up to 20 percent from the federal government and another 5 percent from the state.

"We've worked on a number of really exciting projects recently like the Berkey & Gay Building and the Aldrich Building. We've worked on a lot of Sam Cummings' buildings on Ionia, and the Peck Building, to name a few," said Metz. "We're working on the Monroe Filtration Plant right now."

So business is good and Past Perfect is keeping busy. Metz said that developers feel more comfortable with historic renovations today than they did when the firm started. Now they don't have to sell the benefits of preservation as hard as they once did.

"It can be a viable money maker to take an old building and rehabilitate it," she said. "I think Grand Rapids just took a little longer to catch on to some of that as opposed to a larger city. Now developers who have never done it are interested."

At the same time, her firm has gained a solid reputation as the local expert in the field. To date, Past Perfect's biggest job was conducting a historic survey of downtown buildings for the city — an enormous project that had a goodly amount of public scrutiny.

"It was a pretty big contract for us and we did the whole thing. I'm very proud of the work," said Metz.

"I think it proved to us that we can do a large-scale project that entails a local review and a state review. It was sort of an academic project that had to be done quickly. We met all the deadlines and I think that it's a good, high-quality product," she added.

Metz earned her art history degree at Michigan State University, a major that allowed her to further define her fascination with architecture and preservation. She then got her Master's of Science in Historic Preservation from the Art Institute of Chicago.

"It's a great school. A really cool school. We would be on top of the Tribune Tower and other places like that for classes. And at the time, I didn't fully appreciate that. I'd think, I've got lunch, hurry up," she joked. "Now I think it's a great school."

When Metz isn't working, she keeps in shape physically by running, emotionally by shopping at antique and thrift shops, and mentally by reading. She prefers non-fiction, having recently finished the autobiography of Katherine Graham, the late publisher of the Washington Post who stood up to former President Richard Nixon over Watergate.

"It was really enlightening. It made me feel that an average person can do incredible things," she said.

It's difficult for Metz to name one particular building that she likes the most, which is normal when someone embraces a field as fully as she does. But she did admit to having a special fondness for structures built from 1920 to 1940, like the Welsh Auditorium and the Reyerson Library.

"But I really like all types," she added.

Even though Metz spends much of her time working in the past, she isn't stuck in it. In fact, time seems to be one of her closest allies and she seems to be acutely tuned into her immediate future.

"I see Past Perfect continuing to grow, as Grand Rapids embraces its history and building stock. I see myself continuing my community service. And I'm excited about being a part of the Women's City Club and other organizations that have proven the test of time around here," she said.

"Time is very important to me, in history and tradition and not in a staid, status quo sense," she added. "I think we can change and grow, and that doesn't mean anti-progress. I just think those things are important."

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