Jamestown Renaissance Corporation Mulls Historic District

With a city that holds as much history as Jamestown, steps are being taken to preserve that for future generations and simultaneously stimulate investment.

The Jamestown Renaissance Corporation recently held a presentation, featuring Murray Gould, to talk about the possibilities that the creation of a historic district would present. Gould, who operates Port City Preservation in Syracuse, has been working with historic districts in different areas of the country for many years. During the presentation, Gould spoke about what it takes to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and what it means for a district or building once it is on the register.

“You can’t go to the toolbox and access certain types of funding, like grants, loans and credits, unless you’re on the register,” Gould said. “Nobody is forcing you to use these tax credits, but being on the register opens up that opportunity. There have been some studies done on close to 4,000 different historic districts across the United States, and property values in historic districts are almost universally higher than those in non-historic districts in similarly sized towns.”

Murray also compared being on the national historic register to having a dog that is registered with the American Kennel Club versus a non-registered dog, saying that while they may be the same animal, by registering one of those dogs, its perceived value is instantly increased.

“We’ve talked to the state historic register and we’re looking at creating a district in the downtown core between Washington Street on the west, Prendergast Avenue on the east, and then from the river up to Fourth Street or Fifth Street,” said Peter Lombardi, Jamestown Renaissance Corporation executive director.

According to Lombardi, there was a historic resource survey done in Jamestown in 1993 which suggested the potential for several other historic districts through Jamestown, as well, including Lakeview Avenue, the southside near the Fenton Museum, and several other areas that could potentially become historic districts. There is currently a copy of that survey at City Hall.

“Basically, the survey is a narrative about the historic importance of Jamestown,” Lombardi said. “But it also describes the historical importance of individual buildings that it identified as being significant. So far, we’ve only been working on this application for a couple of months, but we’re at a point where a lot of owners and developers are clamoring for this. They see what other communities are doing when they have access to these tax credits.”

For the first time since this survey was done, local developers and organizations like the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation are seeing a large amount of pressure from the private sector to make this available in Jamestown. Lombardi said that he has been contacted by private property owners in the city saying that now is the time to have this district. Much of the information that is required for a nomination was gathered when the historical survey was done 20 years ago, so currently the survey data is being refined and updated to reflect any changes that have happened in the downtown area during that time.

“Ultimately, these (tax credits) are a resource that many other communities are tapping into right now, and we’re not yet,” Lombardi said. “The only places in Jamestown that have access to these credits right now are buildings that are on the national register of historic places.”

Currently, a small number of buildings throughout the city are on the national register, including the Wellman Building, the Jamestown Gateway Train Station, the Jamestown Armory, Euclid Avenue School, the Fenton Mansion and the Partridge-Sheldon House on Prospect Street. Many of those properties were added years or decades ago for the specific purpose of being able to take advantage of the tax credits that would be made available.

“It’s been a piecemeal process up until this point,” Lombardi said. “By creating a whole district, it would enable dozens and dozens of properties to be eligible for those credits.”

Some area municipalities have already taken steps to create historic districts within their borders, as well, including Warren, Pa., Westfield, Fredonia and Chautauqua Institution.

“If you think about some of the nicest downtown areas in Western New York, many of them have the designation of being on the national historic register,” Lombardi said. “These are places where property owners have been taking advantage of the tax credits and incentives that are available for years and years. It’s time for Jamestown to do the same.”

Vince DeJoy, director of development, also applauded the initiative to create a historic district in downtown Jamestown.

“There are projects that you couldn’t make work without these tax credits,” DeJoy said. “So many people have come through and are just amazed by the architecture that we have in place here. I’m pretty confident that this district will happen. I’m even more confident that bigger projects will happen because of that. This will give us the opportunity to revitalize and rejuvenate this area.”

For more information about Murray Gould and the work that his company, Port City Preservation, does, visit www.portcitypreservation.com or call 315-806-8670.