The State Theater is pictured in this Dispatch file photo. The Starkville Central Neighborhood Foundation is pushing for a National Register of Historic Places nomination for Starkville’s downtown district. Photo by: Kelly Tippett/Dispatch Staff
April 13, 2012 12:19:57 PM
The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.
The Starkville Central Neighborhood Foundation is pushing for a National Register of Historic Places nomination for Starkville's downtown district which, if approved, would give property owners in the proposed district access to significant tax incentives for renovations and purchases.
Jennifer Gregory, manager of the Starkville Main Street Association, said the organization does not yet have a stance regarding the nomination, but recognized how much of an advantage the tax credits could be to owners looking to renovate commercial properties.
"If a property owner were to take on a large scale renovation, let's say, like State Theater, they could receive a 45 percent tax credit on the renovations," she said. "That could really make the difference between a large renovation, like that, happening or not."
Michelle Jones, a Neighborhood Foundation board member, said 20 percent of the tax credit comes in the form of a federal credit and 25 percent comes as a state credit.
The tax credits would only be available to income-producing properties perceived as contributors to the historic worth of the district. Property owners must complete an individual nomination application and have plans approved by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
Jones said the idea to nominate Starkville's downtown district came in April 2010, while the foundation was helping with additions to new nominations in the Greensboro Street Historic District.
"Our thought was that doing a survey for downtown would give us historic information about the buildings and allow us to better promote the area," she said. "We understood that by going through the National Register process, it would allow property owners, who were doing substantial renovations, to take advantage of the federal and state tax credits."
Starkville currently has three other districts under the National Register of Historic Places, but with all three being residential neighborhoods, the proposed downtown district would be something no business owner in Starkville has experienced.
The proposed district is loosely bounded by Jefferson Street on the north, the railroad right of way on the south, North Montgomery Street on the east and Yeates Street on the west.
Columbus business owners know the benefits. The Columbus Central Commercial District was nominated and passed review in 1980, and the district has seen considerable economic growth since.
In addition to the tax incentives made available by the nomination, the city of Columbus has offered business owners tax deferments for plans approved by the local historic commission. Starkville could consider something similar, if the nomination is accepted.
Chris Chain, president and consultant for Renovations of Mississippi Inc., said he has been assisting proprietors in Columbus with completing nomination applications, as well as planning and executing renovations, since 1987. He said he has seen countless property owners benefit from the tax credits and approved nomination offers, and even property owners not looking to renovate have used the credits as a successful marketing tool.
"You can say, 'Hey, look at this building. It is for sale. It is contributing to the district, and it is available with a 20 percent and 25 percent tax credit,'" Chain said. "Just think about if you could start talking about your buildings like that."
The central neighborhood foundation will hold a public hearing on Monday to field questions concerning the nomination.
Bill Gatlin, national register coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, will be on hand to explain the National Register, the parameters of the proposed district, and what the distinction would mean to property owners.
After the public hearing, the nomination application will be presented in Jackson to the Mississippi Historic Preservation Professional Review Board on May 17.
Gregory said she thinks some property owners remain nervous about the possible distinction, and referenced the first public meeting regarding the nomination. She said the meeting was not well attended and the property owners who were present were less concerned with the tax incentives and more concerned with whether development or use restrictions on their buildings would accompany the nomination.
Chain said this is a common fear when the National Parks Service comes into play with people's property, but said he thinks the positive impact of the tax credit obviously outweighs any possible restrictions.
"When I went to do all this for the first time in Columbus, all the merchants, they just didn't want it. Now though, pretty much every one of them have changed their mind," he said. "Of course there are some governmental restrictions, but only if you want to accept the tax credits. You are still under all the other ordinances of the city. If you don't keep your property up, if you let it get dilapidated, the city is going to come and give you a flag on it anyway. What you are changing is the access to other things."
The downtown district's nomination application, which consists of 60 pages, includes a narrative statement of significance, a detailed description of all the structures in the proposed district and an inventory of resources that labels each structure as a "contributing element" or a "non-contributing element," to the district's historical significance. Copies of the nomination application may be requested at [email protected]
The public hearing is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. on Monday at the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum, located at 206 Fellowship St. in Starkville.
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