Downtown could be 'historic'

Designating downtown Huntington as a local historic district would place restrictions on changes to the facades of downtown buildings, but it would also lead to a more vibrant downtown, say backers of the proposal.

However, they add, deciding whether or not to become a local historic district is up to the downtown property owners.

"It's the downtown merchants who have to accept or reject it," says Susan Taylor, who chairs the Huntington Historic Review Board.

Downtown merchants learned of the proposal, which is still in an infancy stage, during meeting of the Huntington Downtown Business Group on Tuesday morning, May 5. Cathy Wright, field representative for Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, says the process of designating local historic districts in other communities has taken anywhere from several months to several years.

Some of the downtown area is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Huntington Courthouse Square Historic District and Old Plat Historic District.

"The National Register doesn't provide protection for the buildings," Wright says. "It's just a recognition, an honor."

Owners of buildings within a locally designated historic district, however, would be required to follow design guidelines for any future changes to the building's exterior. Those guidelines would be established and enforced by the local Historic Review Board, Taylor says.

New paint, for example, would have to be in historically accurate colors, she says, and replacement windows would need to be appropriate to the building's historic character. Building owners would be required to receive a "certificate of appropriateness" from the Historic Review Board for any planned facade changes, Taylor says.

There would be consequences for violating the design guidelines, she says, but adds, "I don't know what the consequences would be."

The boundaries of a downtown historic district have not been established, but would probably include Jefferson Street from Park Drive to the railroad tracks, extending to Warren and Cherry streets on the east and west, Taylor says.

"First we need to educate the community, let them know what the benefits are," Wright says. "The main benefit is that everybody's following the same rules when they make changes."

A cohesive, historically accurate downtown area would preserve the area's character and encourage economic development and tourism, Wright says.

"It's an anti-neglect thing we're trying to do," Taylor says. "It would protect the store owners."

The downtown is anchored by Senior Citizen apartments - Horace Mann Apartments and the LaFontaine Center, which are currently occupied, and the planned apartment complex at the former Central School - and a vibrant downtown will give those residents someplace to walk and shop, Taylor says.

Huntington currently has 12 single-site local historic districts - 11 homes and the Huntington County Visitor Center, which is striving for historical accuracy in its current facade renovation project. There is also one multi-property historic district, Drover Town, which includes 11 homes on Jefferson and Henry streets.

If downtown property owners accept the proposal for a local historic district, Wright and Taylor say, the designation would have to be approved in ordinance form by the Huntington Common Council.