PRINCETON — Frank Butterfield, director of the Springfield office of Landmarks Illinois, a statewide historic preservation program, told Princeton that effort put into revitalizing historic districts does work — but only if the city and its residents are committed to making it happen.
“You have so much here, and you’ve already done so many things which are steps in the right direction; it will work. But, it’s a long grind of creativity, compromise, give and take, sweat equity and lots of conversation,” Butterfield said.
Meeting at the Prouty Building on Jan. 24, the workshop provided a general overview of the National Register Historic District program, Landmarks Illinois, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Historic Preservation Tax Credit program.
Representatives from Rockford’s Gary W. Anderson Architects, Jennifer Spencer and Ashley Sarver, were also on hand to share before and after photos of that city’s many successful restoration efforts, and they explained the different challenges presented by each project and how they were overcome.
The presentation was a product of the Community Vision Workshops led by the Princeton Main Street Revitalization Committee. One of the goals established during that process was to list Princeton’s downtown districts as a National Register Historic Districts.
Butterfield said, “To be listed as a historic district brings financial incentives because there are investors who look specifically for these areas to invest in because of the tax credits involved which can equal 20 percent of a rehabilitation’s qualified expenditures.”
He also said being a registered site brings heritage tourism, and that these sites have proven visitors stay longer and spend more while there.
“It will also recognize what makes Princeton special,” he added.
Butterfield said the process is still in the surveying stage, and several things are taken into consideration when gauging the borders of the proposed historic districts, including how Princeton developed, historic integrity and where it’s been lost, and continuity.
One thing learned from the presentation is that each building project is unique and will face its’ own challenges, often unexpectedly. Several examples were shown how projects evolved after historic discoveries were made during the construction phases, and how creative solutions were required.
Butterfield explained how the resources and services of Landmarks Illinois can be essential to a successful rehabilitation. For example, experts who have worked on previous Landmarks Illinois projects can be brought in to assist with Princeton’s projects if needed. And, if locally experienced people provide valuable assistance, then Butterfield could help make them available to assist with another town’s project.
Butterfield also dispelled the common belief that being a part of National Register will restrict the rights of property owners, saying, “No one is going to tell you what to do.”
Spencer said of community-led revitalization projects: “It can be a lengthy process requiring a lot of work and volunteering, but it can transform a city and restore its backbone.”
She also explained how Rockford successfully transformed itself when. “It’s not by chance; it’s taken a committed group of volunteers; that is essential to progress.”
Sarver added, “Vacant buildings drain the life from an area.”
Butterfield told the filled meeting room this would be the first of many meetings required, and it is about community pride, saying there is no downside to the National Register.
“It’s recognizing what’s special about Princeton and marketing it for the benefit of economic health,” he said.
Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.