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Preserving downtown’s history

Photo by KAITLIN MULLINS An ordinance that is expected to be voted on later this month would designate downtown as a historic district. The city is pursuing efforts to become a certified local government through the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Photo by KAITLIN MULLINS
An ordinance that is expected to be voted on later this month would designate downtown as a historic district. The city is pursuing efforts to become a certified local government through the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

By KAITLIN MULLINS AND NATHANIEL WEATHERSBY

Brookhaven’s downtown area may soon receive another boost to help continue recent growth.

According to Karen Sullivan, alderman-at-large for the city of Brookhaven, city officials are on track to seek a Certified Local Government certification for the home seeker’s paradise. Sullivan said since learning more about the CLG program, the general consensus of the board has been extremely positive.

City attorney Joe Fernald has been working on the ordinance that would designate the historic district in collaboration with the coordinator of the CLG program of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Barry White. Sullivan said each alderman has received a copy of the ordinance and has been invited to have input.

“When we invited Mr. Jim Woodrick of the [MDAH] to Brookhaven to take a look at the depot,” Sullivan said, “he advised us that it would be advantageous to the city in getting assistance to keep up this historic structure if we had Certified Local Government designation.”

The board has already voted to repair the roof of the Union Station Depot, and Sullivan said while she believes they should develop the ordinance as soon as possible, they are prepared to at least save the

structure.

“A grant would help us to do more needed repairs on the building while keeping the integrity of the historic structure intact,” she said. “The Brookhaven Trust for the Preservation of History, Culture and the Arts is consistently involved with a project of this kind. They are very interested in contributing to the city’s efforts to preserve Union Station.”

The CLG program makes it easier and in some cases eligible to compete for historic preservation grants that the city could not apply for otherwise, Sullivan said, and it links local government to a preservation partnership that is a good connection for Brookhaven.

The competitive grants require only a 20-percent coverage of funds for approved projects with 80 percent funded by the grant.

Sullivan said the board sees no real concerns with the designation, including possible restrictions facing property owners when making

changes to structures.

“Control is not what the city is all about at all. Protection of our historic entities is,” Sullivan said. “The ordinance has no intention of being a burden on property owners.”

“A five to nine member commission, which is part of the ordinance, will be made up of citizens who have an interest in historic preservation,” she said. “Only certain areas will be designated in the ordinance.”

Brookhaven Trust President Jason Snider said the next step after city officials agree to submit an application to be come a CLG would be to hold a public hearing to gauge interest of residents as well as owners

of businesses and properties downtown.

“We don’t want to cram it down anybody’s throat,” Snider said. “We’re not going to try to push this around the back door.”

Snider said after the city applies the commission would be formed which would then initiate the designation of the area for the

ordinance.

Snider said the designation would help preserve the valuable history of downtown as well as provide additional opportunities for grants.

CEO of Hurst Review Services Pat Lowery agrees that such a program could help the downtown area. Hurst Review Services is located in a building built in downtown Brookhaven in the early 1900s but renovated when the business moved into it.

Lowery said they were able to make the changes they made because they applied for the building to become a historical landmark under the

Mississippi Department of Archives and History. The designation gave them access to a grant that funded the building’s revitalization. If the building had been part of the designated region within a CLG the first step of applying to become a landmark could be skipped and owners of properties within the region could directly apply for grants.

“As long as the city doesn’t choose to be more restrictive than the national restoration guidelines, they would be fine,” Lowery said about the program if the city decides to move forward.

After Lowery and his team received the grant from MDAH any changes they made had to match the time period in which the building was built as per the National Historical Preservation Act of 1966. He said staying within the regulations were “not really that onerous.”

He said that although major changes had to fit the building’s established time period, they were still able to add things to make the building have a modern feel.

Lowery said that the city becoming designated a CLG would provide great tax credits for current and future property and business owners

in the region chosen by the commission.

As someone who prepares taxes for people and business owners in Brookhaven, Lowery said in the past decade at least $5 million worth of renovations to buildings downtown are a result of tax credits from being designated historical landmarks through MDAH.

“And that’s just the ones I know about,” Lowery said.

Lowery said his only concern would be how restrictive the commission would make the regulations on renovation changes. Otherwise, he feels that such a designation would push Brookhaven forward by attracting more building renovations and businesses that would reap direct benefits regarding sales and property taxes.

Sullivan and Snider are both looking forward to upcoming city board meetings this month regarding the matter. Snider plans to speak before the board Tuesday to voice the Trust’s support of the certification. Sullivan said the board expects the ordinance to be ready for a vote at the May 19 board meeting.