Government

Newstrack: Iowa City seeks National Register of Historic Places designation for downtown

Listing would open state and federal tax credits for building owners

The Englert Theatre is seen last October on Washington Street in Iowa City. After a consultant completed a historic building survey of structures downtown, the city decided to apply to have the area designated as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The Englert Theatre is seen last October on Washington Street in Iowa City. After a consultant completed a historic building survey of structures downtown, the city decided to apply to have the area designated as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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BACKGROUND

IOWA CITY — Iowa City’s Historic Preservation Commission received an update last fall to its 2001 historic buildings survey.

The consultant for the updated project, Alexa McDowell, studied nine square blocks and 115 buildings between Iowa Avenue and Gilbert, and Burlington and Clinton streets. The study was meant to give city officials an idea of whether a downtown district might be eligible to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Eight of the buildings already are on the national register individually, including the Englert Theatre and the Iowa State Bank & Trust building, previously the Johnson County Savings Bank.

The oldest building in the study area was found to be Franklin Printing at 115 S. Dubuque St., which was built in 1856. Jessica Bristow, the city’s historic preservation planner, said last fall the building still is representative of what a typical downtown Iowa City building looked like on the eve of the Civil War.

WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE

After finishing her initial work last fall, McDowell recommended the city pursue placing part of the study area on the national register, depending on the size of historic district city officials want, Bristow said. Since then, the Iowa City Council has approved hiring McDowell again — this time to work on a nomination to the national register.

City officials chose to go with the larger of two recommended potential historic districts. The area includes the Pedestrian Mall and much of the buildings around Iowa Avenue and College, Clinton and Gilbert streets. However, Bristow said, the boundaries might change slightly as work on the nomination continues.

A national register listing opens up rehabilitation state and federal tax credits for building owners. The listing is different from a local historic district, which comes with regulations.

“There’s a lot of confusion with people about the difference between national register and a local designation. And right now we’re only talking about the national register,” Bristow said, adding that whether the city will pursue a local district has yet to be determined. “We think it’s going to be beneficial for property owners at this stage, at least, just because the tax credits and other similar types of funding that that opens up for them and they can get professional help from the state, too.”

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To be on the national register, the National Park Service looks for qualities such as defined boundaries and consistent architecture, Bristow said. The consultant likely will have a draft of the nomination paperwork ready by this fall, which means the historic district could be on the national register by next spring.

A listing on the national register would be good for marketing properties and the downtown as a destination for visitors, Bristow said.

“If something’s listed on the national register, that means it has its own unique character, instead of being just like everything else. And so we’re persevering the uniqueness of downtown through that listing,” Bristow said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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