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Historic preservation is economic development

First published in the Lincoln Sentinel on January 26, 2017

If you’ve spent any more than a few minutes hanging around me, there is a good chance you are well aware of my passion for historic buildings.  It was the reason I got a degree in architecture at K-State, it was the reason I switched to a career in economic development 14 years ago, and it was a reason for deciding to move to Lincoln County for this job.

A key to being successful in economic development is figuring out what makes us unique and capitalizing on it.  We live in a beautiful part of the state with one of our most noteworthy features being our limestone buildings, fence rows, and structures.  These are huge assets for us and we need to do more to preserve them in order to grow our economy.

Historic preservation IS economic development.  It is a method of renewing the value of properties and growing the local tax base.  Almost any community or city that has gone through some kind of renewal in recent years has had historic buildings at the center of it.  It’s happened in downtown Hays, Abilene’s residential neighborhoods and Wichita’s Old Town.   It’s happened in small Main Street communities across the country and it can happen here.

Historic preservation is tourism development.  It is a tool for creating a destination.  Think about it, when the Kansas Sampler Foundation promotes tourism in the state, they don’t encourage visitors to drive down main street to see all the vacant lots created by buildings that have been knocked down.  They highlight architecture and the history and the cultures that built it.

Historic preservation is sustainable development.  It is a means for concentrating businesses where there are already existing roads and utilities.  It does not require spending already limited funds to build brand new infrastructure that will then further strain our funds to maintain in the future.  As an example, replacing 1000 feet of a utility line in downtown Lincoln could benefit numerous businesses and jobs while that same length of brand new line to undeveloped land would only benefit one or maybe two businesses.

We must fix up our historic buildings.  I know it’s expensive, especially when we’ve let our buildings deteriorate for so long.  But we have to do it.  We have to.  We simply can’t afford to NOT fix them up.

The good news is there are financial programs to help property owners fix up these buildings.  This will be the main topic during a “Grants & Assistance for Historic Properties” workshop on Monday, January 30, 7:00pm, at the museum in Lincoln.  Two staff from the Kansas Historical Society will discuss how a property becomes eligible for grants along with the details of the programs.

They will also correct myths about preservation.  For example, there is a myth that if a building is historic and listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) then the property owner has to follow a ton of rules to maintain the building.  That is NOT true.  The NRHP is simply a formal recognition of a properties historic significance and (quoting the NRHP website here) “… places no obligations on private property owners. There are no restrictions on the use, treatment, transfer, or disposition of private property.”

If you have any questions about historic preservation or the upcoming workshop, please feel free to stop by the LCEDF office in the county courthouse basement at 216 E. Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln, give me a call at 785-524-8954, or email me at lcedfdirector@outlook.com.
Kelly Larson
Executive Director
Lincoln County Economic Development Foundation

 

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