Preservation debate sparked in Springfield

Springfield Register of Historic Properties

The following districts and buildings are on the local register by the Springfield Historic Landmarks Commission, including:

• The South Fountain Preservation Area

• The East High Street District

• The former Springfield News-Sun building, 202 N. Limestone St., original portion of building

• Fellowship Spring Hill, 714 N. Limestone St., formerly known as Church of God Sanctified, Third Presbyterian Church or Northminster Presbyterian Church

• The Bushnell Building, 14 E. Main St. and 16-18 N. Fountain Ave., formerly Wren’s Department Store

• Pennsylvania House, 1311 W. Main St.

• IOOF Home for the Aged, 404 E. McCreight Ave.

• Wittenberg University’s Myers Hall

• The Heritage Center, 117 S. Fountain Ave., formerly known as The Marketplace

• The Arcade Building, located on the southeast corner of East High Street and South Fountain Avenue, now demolished

• Clark County Veterans Memorial Hall, 300 W. Main St., now demolished

• Innisfallen Greenhouse/C.A. Reeser House, believed to be the site of the first successful mail-order nursery, now demolished

Staying with the story

The Springfield News-Sun has reported extensively on the debate about historic preservation and downtown buildings, including recent stories examining parking and a proposed downtown commission.

The Springfield Register of Historic Properties was updated last week for the first time in nearly 30 years, sparking debate if other buildings should be designated historic.

Preservationists argue the status saves landmarks that attract people to the community, but some business leaders said each building should be examined on a case-by-case basis and that personal property rights should play into any decision.

The Springfield Historic Landmarks Commission will invite several community leaders and historians on Jan. 12 to discuss which buildings have enough historical and architectural significance that they could be added to the local registry.

Landmark status prohibits demolition or exterior changes to a property without the commission’s approval.

It’s timely for Springfield to examine which buildings have historical significance or an emotional connection to the community and begin the process of placing them on the registry, said Bill Harless, executive director of the Center City Association.

It will serve the buildings well, he said, and provide a road map to prospective owners or buyers looking to redevelop a property.

“They’re going to know right up front the kinds of things they’re going to have to do if that building is already on the preservation list,” Harless said.

Springfield city commissioners will discuss the future of downtown next year, including looking at parking and preservation. The last serious discussion they had about the big picture of downtown happened 10 years ago, Mayor Warren Copeland said.

“We agree that it’s going to take awhile,” Copeland said. “We need to work through those things with other people in the community.”

Landmarks commission

The Springfield Historic Landmarks Commission was established in 1984 to protect and enhance the distinctive character of the city. It has seven members who are appointed based on their knowledge or interest in preservation and design.

In October, landmarks commission members nominated the former Springfield News-Sun building, 202 N. Limestone St., to be placed on the local register amid rumors it might be razed and over the objections of owner Jim Lagos. He eventually agreed to designate the original part of the building as historic and city commissioners approved that status last week.

While being placed on the local registry makes the property subject to review by the landmarks commission, that doesn’t mean it will never be torn down. Three properties placed on the list — Memorial Hall, the Arcade Building and the Innisfallen Greenhouse — were demolished after being placed on the list.

Several pieces of Memorial Hall have been incorporated into different construction projects throughout the city, including the NTPRD Chiller ice arena, the planned Veterans Bridge reconstruction project and the Buck Creek Nature Park Amphitheater.

In most cases the historic nomination comes from a building owner but the landmarks and city commissions have a process to add a property without their consent.

The question, Copeland said, is how difficult does placing a property on the local register make it to maintain the building.

“It’s a case-by-case call as to whether it’s feasible or not,” he said.

Historical assets

Copeland has always told people his two favorite buildings are the former South High School and the Robertson Can building, neither of which are designated as landmarks. The former high school is currently being renovated by the school district as a home for both the Global Impact Stem Academy and the Clark State Community College food and bioscience program.

Springfield’s historic quality is one of its assets, said Christopher Oldstone-Moore, the outgoing landmarks commission chairman. While jobs are being created, Springfield must find a way to attract people to live in the city.

“If we can preserve that, it’s going to be a city for tourists, but (also) for people to move here,” Oldstone-Moore said.

He moved to Springfield with his wife in 2000 and said the first thing people would excuse was the downtown. But it could be a real source of pride with recent additions, including the hospitals and Kuss Auditorium.

“If we don’t turn the old buildings into parking lots, then I think we’ve got a real shot,” he said.

The city’s historic buildings have charm, he said, and while that can be an overstated word, it’s real.

“Once you tear down the building, you’ve lost it, both the building and the historical quality,” Oldstone-Moore said.

Pros and Cons

Some buildings downtown should be placed on the local registry, while others shouldn’t, said Chris Lewis of Phoenix Builders and Phoenix Properties Group. He who owns several buildings downtown, including the Buckeye Sports Lodge, 126 W. High St.; the property that houses Sip-and-Dippity Paint Bar, 10 N. Fountain Ave.; and the church at 26 S. Center St.

He has mixed feelings about the issue and see pros and cons to placing a building on the local or national historic registries.

The designation should depend on the architect, the era it was built and the importance of the structure, Lewis said. The 10 N. Fountain Ave. site didn’t have any historical significance, he said, but it’s a cute building that was well-maintained and won’t be too difficult to restore. The plan is to renovate the second and third floor for apartments.

The landmarks commission should have the right to designate a the building if it has a really strong history, Lewis said.

The former News-Sun property is a beautiful building that has historical and architectural significance, he said. It opened Oct. 20, 1929, nine days before the stock market crash that set off the Great Depression. Architectural firm Schultze & Weaver designed it, as well as several well-known Biltmore hotels and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.

At the same time, a property owner doesn’t want to be forced to place the building on the local registry, Lewis said, especially with the amount of money it could take to renovate the exterior of a structure.

“It does preserve the building, but it ties your hands with what you can do to the exterior,” he said.

The landmarks commission should work beside the property owner, Lewis said. It has to be cost-effective for property owners, he said, but some buildings are beyond that point and can be harder to sell if designated a landmark.

Grants or low-interest loans for facade improvements could prompt more owners to place their buildings on the registry, he said.

“The property owner is the one that’s got skin in the game,” Lewis said. “They’re the one who paid for the building.”

The landmarks commission shouldn’t have the power to place buildings on the local register without the owner’s permission, said Art Wilson, who owns three buildings downtown, including the former Lagonda Club building, 150 E. High St. He also owns the former Cappel Furniture building, now American Antiquities, 126 E. High St., and the property where Ruby’s Pub, 42 N. Fountain Ave., operates.

“As long as it’s not hurting someone, how can they tell you what to do with your personal property,” Wilson said.

The Lagonda Club building is listed on the local register as part of the East High Street Historic District. He wouldn’t be receptive to the city placing either of his other two buildings on the local register.

“It’s too restrictive as to what I can do with the building without some committee making a decision,” Wilson said.

Great deal of time

The restoration of historic properties can be difficult and must be done with finesse, Lagos said. He purchased the Bushnell Building in 1993 and finished a $10 million renovation in 2010. The renovation so far has brought about 300 jobs to the site, including Code Blue and Clark, Schaefer and Hackett.

The goal, Lagos said, was to create a modern, energy-efficient space inside a historic property built in 1893.

“We succeeded in doing that,” Lagos said. “It’s very expensive. It takes a great deal of time, a great deal of talent in terms of architects, engineers and contractors.”

The building is on both the national and local historic registers, which meant lots of research and skill went into the renovations, Lagos said.

“You have to coordinate the modern engineering techniques with historic architecture,” he said. “It’s very expensive, but I think it was worth it in the case of the Bushnell Building.”

Preservation must be determined on a case-by-case basis, he said, and some properties are worth saving, especially if you have a use for the structure. Every square foot of the property was put to good use, Lagos said.

“Some buildings it makes absolutely no sense,” he said, “and other buildings it does.”

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