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Springfield's center city may join national historic sites

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

Center city could join Commercial Street, Walnut Street and the Midtown Neighborhood in being listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Phil Thomason, a consultant who has worked on several applications to the National Register, including those for the Gillioz Theater and Midtown, said adding the center city area to the National Register would make a federal tax credit of 20 percent and a state tax credit of 25 percent available to each developer who took on a qualified renovation project.

Making the entire area part of the National Register might allow some buildings to be included in the tax credit program that would not otherwise qualify.

The area being discussed is bordered roughly by McDaniel Street on the north side, Elm and Pershing streets on the south, Jefferson Avenue on the east, and Campbell and Market streets on the west. The area does not include Park Central Square.

A certified historic structure is one that is more than 50 years old and contributes "to the historical significance of a district," Thomason said. Park Central Square has the concrete awnings attached to its buildings, and has therefore not retained enough of its historical character to qualify for receiving the tax-credit incentives.

"What you have on the square is evidence of the downtown efforts to compete with the suburban malls. If the canopies were removed, probably three-quarters of the buildings would have sufficient historic character," Thomason said.

Thomason will probably be retained to prepare the application for center city, if the decision is made to pursue adding it to the National Register. When and how that decision will ultimately come has yet to be determined, said Brian King, interim director of the Urban Districts Alliance.

King said the UDA held a March 2 meeting with Thomason so that those interested in center city could get more information about the project, and so that the UDA could get feedback from the community.

"Part of the purpose of this meeting was to see what the general feeling about this effort is among those who are going to be directly affected by it," King said.

To retain a consultant to make the application for center city would cost about $7,400, King said. He is also not yet certain where that money would come from. Mary Lilly Smith, principal planner for Springfield's Planning and Development Department, said the city has not dedicated itself to funding this particular effort, although it did provide the funding for Walnut Street, Commercial Street and Midtown. For Midtown, the city applied for and received state grant money, Smith said.

The three areas the city helped add to the National Register were added as a reslut of neighborhood plans, Smith added.

"We undertook preparing those nominations as part of an implementation of city policy. This situation is different because the idea originated with the private sector," Smith said.

Although the city has prepared a center city plan, the National Register was not a consideration in that plan, Smith said.

The idea for adding center city to the National Register began in about 1985 or 1986, said Sam Freeman, owner of Center City Development Co. and a center city developer since the early 1980s.

"I first worked on getting a district in 1985 or 1986, and it was the state's preliminary opinion that the area would be eligible at that time, but it was not pursued any further," Freeman said.

The application for inclusion in the National Register must first be evaluated by state officials at the state historic preservation office, then is forwarded to the Department of Interior at the federal level, Thomason said.

The topic came up again in November of 1997, Freeman said.

"We have people looking at major projects here in center city, and this could make those projects economically feasible for them," Freeman said.

The $7,400, which "is a very fair rate," Freeman said, will probably have to come from the private sector, Smith said.

"We're working on it right now," Freeman added.

Freeman also said that Thomason is one of the best consultants in his field and has done "quality work, including work on a couple of Springfield projects."

Local support, especially among property owners in the area, is critical, Freeman said. Dan Scott, who owns the building at the corner of Jefferson and Walnut with David Kellett, said he is interested in what this effort can offer for him in future downtown projects.

"I think that whatever happens with this will probably happen too late for us to take advantage of the tax credits for the Jefferson building," Scott said.

He added that the addition of the center city area to the National Register seemed like a benefit, but is wary of re-zoning the area.

The center city area could be listed by the end of 1998, Thomason said.

Nancy Brown, who has been involved in four renovation projects in the Walnut Street National Register district, said the biggest advantage to developers is the tax credits.

"It's a tremendously beneficial program, and with the addition of the state tax credit, it's an even better financial tool," Brown said.

The state tax credit component went into effect Jan. 1 of this year. Brown's latest effort on Walnut, renovating 1021 E. Walnut for commercial, office and residential space, will allow her to take advantage of the new Missouri credit.

There are two ways to qualify for the tax credits: the first is getting the building itself added to the National Register, and the second is getting the entire district included and renovating a structure in that district, Brown said. She added that once you decide to renovate a structure, there are no limits.

"This is program that places no restraints on what you can do. You simply have to follow through once you say you are going to do something," Brown said.

The owner/developer does have to provide before and after photos as documentation of what he or she does to the building, and the renovation has to be completed according to standards established by the Department of Interior.

INSET CAPTION:

Local support, especially among property owners in the area, is critical.

Sam Freeman

Center City Development Co.[[In-content Ad]]

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