Will downtown be on historic list?

ESCANABA – Downtown Escanaba’s nomination for being listed on the National Register for Historic Places will likely be approved by the end of the year, according to the historian who presented a final report to the public Thursday.

“It’s going to fly through in my opinion,” said Bill Rutter, an architectural historian with BB&E consulting firm of Trout Lake. Rutter worked with a local historic committee to gather information on a portion of downtown being considered for the list of historic places.

Rutter presented the final report at city hall Thursday during a special joint meeting of the committee, city council, planning commission, Downtown Development Authority, and the public.

Properties included in the proposed nomination include Ludington Street from 3rd Street to 19th Street and portions of adjacent streets and avenues. If approved, the designation allows property owners to receive federal historic tax credits to upkeep their buildings.

According to the report, the national register is the federal government’s official list of properties considered to be worthy of preservation because of their importance in American history and culture.

Escanaba was able to fund the study to accompany the nomination application form when the city received a grant from the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). The local historic committee began working with Rutter last summer, helping gather research for the report.

A state board from SHPO will review the nomination application during a meeting in Lansing on Sept. 14, explained Rutter. From there, the report is forwarded to Washington, D.C., where the National Park Service “has the final say in everything,” he said.

“I think it’s going to be a slam dunk,” Rutter said after the meeting, attributing his optimism to the downtown’s various styles of architecture, the history behind each contributing property, and the city’s desire to be nominated.

“You’ve got everything the National Register of Historic Places wants,” he said, expecting a formal listing possibly by December.

During his presentation Thursday, Rutter explained what the downtown has to offer in its nomination application, citing the necessary criteria of historical events, people, and architecture which he considers to be in “wonderful” condition.

“You got them all,” he told those attending the meeting, mentioning specific places like the House of Ludington, the oldest continuously-operating hotel in the Upper Peninsula. Other buildings of architectural and historical importance include the old post office, the Masonic Building, the Michigan Theater, the Delft Theater, old city hall, the junior high school, and St. Joseph Catholic Church.

Delta Hotel (Hereford and Hops) and the Carnegie Library are already on the historic places list. The Richter Brewery (Lofts on Ludington) is registered as a state and national historic district and therefore must meet historic preservation requirements for any renovations.

Rutter listed several more examples of properties contributing to the nomination process as he presented a PowerPoint going east to west along Ludington Street, stressing the big benefit is the historic preservation tax credits for income-producing and commercial properties.

“This is an honorary program to offer tax incentives for owners,” he said, adding the National Register of Historic Places district listing does not affect owners’ property rights.

Properties in the listing which undergo rehabilitations that retain a building’s historic character are eligible for a 20-percent tax credit. Other properties, considered “non-contributing” historically, are eligible for a 10-percent tax credit toward maintenance and improvements.

A total of 185 buildings downtown would be included on the list if approved, said Rutter. Eighty-five percent of the properties are considered significant to the city’s historic designation while 15 percent are considered non-contributing due to renovations of the structures, he said.

To review the report, visit the city’s website at www.escanaba.org and hit “City News” on the top right and then hit “National Register of Historic Places.” The city welcomes public comment regarding the nomination application which has yet to be approved by the city council.

Prior to Thursday’s joint meeting, the planning commission met and approved site plans for construction of a brewery in Escanaba. Bell’s Brewery, of downstate Comstock, will soon be breaking ground for a $1.3 million 11,550-square-foot state-of-the-art brewery and bottling facility in the Renaissance Zone by the county airport.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, jlancour@dailypress.net