City pursues historic listing

Jon Francis looks out from his Massachusetts Street storefront and breathes in history.

"You've got buildings that go back before Quantrill's Raid," said Francis, owner of Francis Sporting Goods and president of Downtown Lawrence Inc. "The age of the buildings is tremendous. Downtown is incredibly special."

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City leaders agree. The Lawrence City Commission on Tuesday voted unanimously to have the city's Historic Resources Commission consider nominating downtown to the National Register of Historic Places.

It's a move that has wide backing.

"I think this may be a dangerous path for us to head down," Commissioner David Dunfield joked, "with the chamber (of commerce), downtown and the preservationists all on the same side of an issue."

If the downtown is named to the register, buildings in the district would qualify for tax credits that would offset up to 45 percent of the cost of renovating or maintaining buildings.

The federal government has been offering its 20 percent tax credit for historic renovations since the mid-1970s, and the state began offering a 25 percent tax credit a little more than a year ago.

"I'm real excited about the potential of this," Mayor Sue Hack said.

Officials said the listing wouldn't make it harder to build or remodel downtown, because the city already has guidelines for the area that force builders to make new buildings look like their older neighbors.

Buildings in the "environs" of a listed property � within 500 feet � usually face extra hurdles before remodeling, demolition or construction. But Dennis Enslinger, the city's historic resources administrator, said that should be little problem.

For one, he said, downtown already includes several buildings on the national register, including the historic Eldridge Hotel. That means nearby properties already face the strict development standards.

"It's going to increase it some, but we already have properties on New Hampshire and Vermont and even Rhode Island that put most of the rest of the area under environs," Enslinger said.

And he said the city's proposal probably would include a suggestion for a smaller-than-usual environs, the size still undetermined.

Downtown's nomination could be just the first, Enslinger said. Using money from a state grant, the city has been seeking out historic neighborhoods for possible listing on the register, with its attendant tax benefits to property owners.

"There are lots of areas that would qualify," Enslinger said. "We're looking at a combination of history and interest by the property owners."

He said all the nominations could be finished by next spring.

Stan Hernly, a Lawrence architect and member of Downtown Lawrence's economic development board, told the commission that the listing could help the district as commercial developments pop up around the rest of the city.

"It's really an economic development tool for downtown," Hernly said. "As Lawrence continues to grow, we're going to have to think of ways to continue to protect downtown. We think this is one of them."


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