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Chris Flagg
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Dec. 11, 201412:00 PM EST

Would national historic designation help Downtown?

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

Nine months after first discussions about Downtown being designated a national historic district, there’s progress toward determining what it would take to happen and what it could look like.

Landscape architect Chris Flagg was hired by the city to work with Patricia Davenport, an Environmental Services Inc. consultant, to survey and catalog Downtown’s older real estate. Or, as Flagg says, “identifying a relevant historic district.”

Flagg, a former chairman of the Downtown Development Review Board, was paid $28,500.

Downtown, Brooklyn, LaVilla, the Southbank and Talleyrand were surveyed two weeks ago, with the results showing 422 structures as potentially historic. Downtown led the list with 226, Brooklyn was next with 103, followed by Talleyrand (37), the Southbank (35) and LaVilla (21).

Davenport said the main evaluation category for the survey was for a structure to have been built at least 50 years ago. Other criteria included architectural significance and modifications that have been made that might diminish its historic value.

Lisa Sheppard, a historic planner with the city, said if boundaries for a Downtown national historic district are proposed, it must include a “high concentration” of established and non-established structures that meet standards for contributing. The Riverside-Avondale area and Springfield historic districts could be used a guide, she said.

Creating such a district does have its advantages, assistant General Counsel Susan Grandin said.

Doing so makes property owners eligible for Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives provided by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Grandin said up to 20 percent of the cost of rehabilitating a structure within the district qualify for incentives.

Those that aren’t specifically designated historic also could be eligible if they contribute to the district’s historic nature.

“It would make sense for us to look at the district designation process,” Grandin said. “It’s free money.”

The district concept differs from an individual building becoming a local historic landmark, which requires the structure to be 50 years or older and has renovation restrictions.

As a district, owners wouldn’t be restricted from modifying their properties unless they sought or used the federal tax credit.

Once a possible area is identified, the state’s Bureau of Historic Preservation would have to agree before building owners are notified. If enough objected, it wouldn’t be listed.

From there, it would head to a couple of national organizations for final review.

Oliver Barakat, a real estate executive and chairman of the Downtown Investment Authority, said the DIA board previoulsy voted to support development of a nationally sanctioned Downtown historic district.

Wednesday’s workshop was the next step in determining whether such a zone could help real estate and economic development for the area. “My sense is that we’ll have another workshop or two,” Barakat said.

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