Aberdeen talks historic district

Aberdeen can believe in its powerful history, delineate historical districts and designations for its buildings, earn preservation status and prosper once more.

That’s the essence of the message given Tuesday evening by two consultants who are in a joint venture agreement with the city to help Aberdeen complete a Historic Preservation Plan.

Teresa L. Brum, who helped spark a successful revival of downtown Spokane, and nationally known preservation expert Philip Thomason gave a powerful argument for the benefits of preservation in terms of earning dollars both for building owners and for residents.

Well-known landmarks the Electric Building, the Becker, and the Morck were among the early 20th Century downtown buildings discussed, but the plan will be expanded to include residential areas, too.

“We were very impressed with the residential history” with the neighborhood up the hill on Broadway, said Thomason, who noted there are 40 continuous blocks of “quality homes” and examples of Craftsman, Tudor, bungalow and other types of solid homes, built with the timber of the area.

To achieve success in historical preservation, the changes must be incentive-based and property owner consent obtained, said Brum.

Thomason ran a slideshow to demonstrate how historical preservation districts create jobs, promote development and increase property values. Because it is labor intensive, renovation and preservation can keep more household income in an area, too.

Heritage areas also attract tourists who stay longer and return to visit again, he said. Upper floor development helps, too, creating floor to ceiling lofts, artist districts and other consumer benefits, appealing to potential residents of all ages. Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y are all returning to developed downtowns in cities such as Nashville, Spokane and Seattle, he said.

To be considered for a district, an area must have continuity of building, so some of Aberdeen’s blocks will not qualify for the honorary designation as a National Historic District. Any buildings more than 50 years old are eligible, but there must be several within a certain area, he and Community Development Director Lisa Scott explained.

A building must be architecturally and substantially original. The block that includes the D&R Theater is a good example of a defensible boundary of buildings old enough to qualify. Designation can speed up the process and encourage owners to take advantage of a 20 percent tax deduction that can be leveraged to save on rehabilitation costs, Brum said.

Historical designation also lends itself to streamlining permitting. Aberdeen has its own historic designation, which features several ways to save, including tax incentives and facade grants, Scott confirmed. Owners should not be worried that permissions are needed to do work on a building with a historic designation since it is honorary.

During the meeting, the public and parties were asked to consider what works and what doesn’t in terms of historic preservation. All agreed there is much to love about the area, the city and its authentic, colorful history. City Council President Kathy Hoder and others at the meeting want tangible action “now.”

Ways to obtain public and owner buy-in were discussed, such as a Roaring ‘20s tour, complete with classic cars, private tours of some of the best buildings downtown, vacant or not, asking for help with a building inventory since many of the buildings once designated as historical no longer exist. Historians or architects must do an inventory, noted Aaron Nickell, who is chair of the Aberdeen Historic Preservation Commission.

The biggest impediment is the negative view others and “we have of our city,” Scott said. Kevin Moore, the new co-owner of the Electric Building, is in pursuit of state and federal designation by year’s end. He has been inspired the secrets revealed in his new building, such as a timber from 1928 hidden by a dropped ceiling. He says other owners downtown can be motivated to recover the past “as I know it did me.”

Brian Little, chair of the Aberdeen Planning Commission, is active in social media and says Facebook and QR tours of the city via smart devices are the way of the future in gaining interest downtown.

Many agreed that though Washington State’s Main Street designation movement of 30 years ago failed to spark revival, times are different now. “We weren’t ready in the early ‘80s,” said Little, who seeks to find middle ground between dreamers and practical-minded citizens.

The Landmarks Committee meeting on June 27 is open to the public and Scott the second of three public comment meetings on the Historic Preservation Plan will be held in the week of July 8.

Brum proposed a tour for the public that week to enthusiastic response. The consultants both gave permission for their emails to be published so the public can comment in the meantime. Brum’s is brumassociates@comcast.net and Thomason’s website is www.thomasonadnassociates.com.

The plan is being funded with a total of $20,000 in federal, state and city dollars.