Cedar Rapids can and should do more to protect our cultural heritage.
The city already offers incentives for renovating historic buildings, but advocates say those policies have not been robust enough to fend off the destruction of important community assets. The local group Save CR Heritage is circulating a petition calling on the city government to stop any future incentives to projects that involve demolishing historic buildings.
Organizers plan to collect signatures and present their petition to the city early next year. We see no reason to wait. This ought to be an easy decision for the City Council.
Separately, the city is updating its economic development incentives, including a proposal to offer a 10-year, 100 percent tax break to developers who incorporate or relocate historic buildings. That, too, is worthy of careful consideration by the City Council.
The Save CR Heritage petition presents an opportunity to step back and recognize the scope of the problem. In the past year, the city has placed holds on 17 historically significant properties, and they’ve all since been demolished.
Preservationists say they can’t keep up with all the endangered properties. A 60-day hold imposed by the city for demolishing historic buildings is not long enough to pull together the funding required to move such structures, and besides that, preservationists strongly prefer to keep buildings in their original location. They aptly call the shortfalls in the existing process a sign of a much broader “throwaway mentality” in modern society.
It’s worth noting other cities around the country have employed much stricter regulations to protect historic resources, requiring special exemptions or city council approval before the demolition of any historically designated building. Local property owners would cringe at such a policy; the proposals at hand in Cedar Rapids are a far cry from that. At the very least, local government should not be incentivizing the erasure of our history.
Historic preservation should be more than a minor afterthought in a city with such rich cultural and architectural heritage. To the contrary, developers have grown accustomed to tearing down whatever they want, facing only limited resistance from local government or the community.
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Taxpayers, who ultimately cover the budget gaps created by the government’s development incentives, expect such investments to promote longevity and uphold community character. Giving tax breaks to developers who remove historic buildings is a violation of public trust.
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