By Jason Raiche
ESCANABA - A public hearing on the possibility of listing the 600 block of Ludington Street on the National Registry of Historic Places took place Monday in the Escanaba City Council Chambers.
A report has been completed to recognize the historical importance of the block, as well as encourage economic benefits of historic preservation in downtown Escanaba.
During the public hearing, Peter Strom, chairman of the city's Historic District Study Committee, discussed the block's historic value, including specific architectural styles and some history of the buildings.
The study highlights seven sites as historic: Hereford & Hops (the former Delta Hotel), Gust Asp, the Michigan Building, the Corcoran Block (which currently houses WDBC and WYKX), the Daley Block, Masonic Building, and former Rathfon Department Store/First National Bank Building. The Eagles Hall and Daily Press buildings are considered historically significant, but require additional study, according to Strom.
"The 600 block is unique in the sense that the buildings on that street are probably the oldest surviving commercial retail buildings that we have on Ludington Street," said Strom.
The report includes several recommendations, which were discussed during the hearing. The first was for city council to designate the 600 block as an area to include in an application for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
It also recommends that council request a consultant retained by the State Historic Preservation Office use the report as an aid in applying to nominate downtown Escanaba on the national registry, too.
The third recommendation is for city council to request the Escanaba Downtown Development Authority investigate the feasibility in applying for Certified Local Governmental Status. This would be used as an additional tool to advance historic preservation in the downtown district. The status is a designation by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority and, if achieved, would make Escanaba eligible to apply for grants to further historic preservation.
"Our fourth recommendation is that the local property owners on that street take advantage of the tax credits and other types of economic development incentives that are available through the historic preservation process to restore and improve these buildings along the 600 block," said Strom.
One question that came up during the hearing was how these tax credits would work for local property owners once registration on the National Registry is achieved.
"The way it works ... is it's a percentage," explained Strom. "It's a 20 percent tax credit."
He said, for example, a local entrepreneur would go to the bank and get a construction loan proposal created.
"The local funding is done at the local bank, but in the process what happens is these tax credits are actually for sale in a market," he said.
The entrepreneur would then be able to retain a tax credit broker who is connected to investors looking to purchase tax credits.
"You don't have to sell Escanaba as the investment," said Strom. "What you're selling is the tax credit. Once the tax credits are purchased in this market place, the construction occurs, and then the tax credit portion of the financing closes."
The bank then receives a return. The whole process is described as a magnet, he said.
"It's a magnet to actually attract dollars that would otherwise not be attracted to your community because you have credits for sale," he said.
One final recommendation highlighted in the report is to not have the 600 block designated as a "local historic district" at this time, which is different than being on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Blaine DeGrave, who works in community preservation for the city, said recognition of the 600 block by the National Registry of Historic Places is honorary, and would put no restrictions in place when a property owner wants to make modifications or renovations to one of its buildings. However, by designating this area a "local historic district," any work done on a building would be done under the jurisdiction of the historic commission. Lofts of Ludington is one example of a "local historic district," where any work done on the building must be brought before the historic commission before any modifications are made to it.
Strom said the next step in the historic preservation process is to bring the report before city council. If the report is finalized it will be recast as a final report, and DDA would be given the option to request their application for Certified Local Governmental Status.