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Charleston historic district may grow

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More of the East End could become a national historic district under a plan unveiled Wednesday at the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority.

Lori Brannon, the city's neighborhood planner for the East End, persuaded CURA board members to provide funds to help nominate a large area north of Washington Street as a historic district.

Much of the East End from Lee Street to Kanawha Boulevard is already a historic district. The new district could run from Washington to Piedmont Road, and from Morris Street to Greenbrier Street.

The CURA money, up to $12,000, would be used as a 30 percent match for a $40,000 planning survey grant from the state Historic Preservation Office, Brannon said. If the grant is approved, the city's Historic Landmarks Commission could hire a consultant to survey all properties within the proposed area to see whether they would contribute to a historic district.

Five years ago, students in West Virginia State University Professor Billy Joe Peyton's local history research class did a similar door-to-door study of much of the area, Brannon said. But the data is out of date and incomplete.

"Any structures not surveyed need to be surveyed, and we need photographs," she said.

The idea for creating a historic district in that area has been bouncing around for several years. But in recent months, it has gathered momentum in talks among East End Main Street Director Ric Cavender, City Councilman Marc Weintraub and CURA Director Jim Edwards, Brannon said.

"The whole purpose of this is to provide a financial incentive for people to redevelop their properties, at their option," he said.

Once a property is recognized as nationally historic, either as part of a district or individually, owners can earn state and federal tax credits of up to 30 percent for certain renovations, if they're done according to national historic guidelines.

"CURA and Main Street would benefit from it," Brannon said. "In the Washington Street corridor, the only incentives we can offer are façade and sign grants. In terms of renovating a whole building, those grants are minimal."

The proposed district, which includes the south side of Washington Street, has lots of historic properties, she said: the former State Theater, now home to the W.Va. School Service Personnel; the Bluegrass Kitchen building; the New China building; the Frutcake building; and the Charmco building near Power Park.

"Washington won't stand on its own [as a historic district] because there are too many holes, but if you attach it to Jackson Street and the blocks north, it could become eligible," Brannon said.

Edwards said there are different levels of benefits to historic listing.

"There's the intangible benefit to historic recognition. Sometimes people aren't aware of what they have until research is done and it's listed on the [historic] register. Then developers and even homeowners can be attracted, because there can be improvements. It's improved historic districts all over the country."

CURA could benefit, too. "If we decide to actually renovate a property [ourselves], we can partner with banks that would be interested in investing in the tax credits. That would be a way to bring in the equity a lender would want."

Also Wednesday, board members agreed to adopt a CURA vision statement, mission statement and list of annual project plan priorities for its urban renewal districts. The group drafted the documents during a special planning meeting in August.

Among the top priorities: East End -- facilitate the development of a grocery store; West Side -- cooperate with the Charleston Sanitary Board with separation of storm and sanitary sewer lines to prevent flooding; Smith/Shrewsbury area -- commercial redevelopment (such as an office park) near the Christopher Street interstate off-ramp; and Charleston EDGE -- assist the development of a housing project on the former Holley Hotel site.

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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