By STEVEN NALLEY
Starkville Historic Preservation Commission member Tom Walker said building owners in downtown Starkville need to attend a meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission Monday and educate themselves on the ramifications of the Starkville Central Neighborhood Foundation’s application for downtown Starkville to join the National Register of Historic Places.
Walker said representatives from SCNF, the Starkville Main Street Association and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History will appear at the meeting to explain tax incentives and other issues pertaining to NRHP. The meeting will take place 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Starkville Building Department.
On Nov. 3, both the HPC and the SMSA hosted presentations on NRHP tax ramifications from Todd Sanders, an architectural historian with MDAH. However, he said, only about 20 people attended SMSA’s presentation, and while some of them may have represented multiple downtown buildings, some of them may have come in groups representing single buildings. Further, he said, no building representatives attended the presentation to the HPC.
“To be honest with you, given that there are 144 buildings in the area that are being considered for national historic designation, attendance was very poor,” Walker said. “All I can tell you is, I got my notification either the day of or the day after the meeting. I don’t think many business owners really know this is happening at all.”
If downtown Starkville joins the NRHP, Walker said, buildings will be eligible for varying tax credits, depending on whether they are ruled as contributing or non-contributing. The website for SCNF has an assessment on its home page from Mississippi Heritage Trust Executive Director David Preziosi outlining which downtown buildings would be contributing and non-contributing under NRHP. Owners of contributing buildings are eligible for as much as a 45 percent tax credit on building rehabilitation expenses.
“If you’re not in a historic district, then you can take a 10-15 percent tax credit, but you don’t even have to ask anybody,” Walker said. “It only has to be built before 1933. However, if you get the bigger tax credit, the bigger tax credit is better because it’s more money, but then you’re subject to review by both the Mississippi Department of Archives and the (U.S.) Department of the Interior. It kind of depends with your project as to what you’re wanting to do and what you’re willing to do.”
Because of the personal decisions to be made with taxes and property alterations, Walker said he believes downtown building owners should be able to vote on whether or not to apply for NRHP. Once the application succeeds, he said, a 50-percent-plus-one-vote majority is needed to prevent it from taking effect, as opposed to the 50-percent-plus-one-vote majority needed to enable the city to establish a local historic district. He said SMSA does plan to canvass building owners for opinions on the application.
Walker said the processes for local and national historic districts are distinct, and it is technically possible for NRHP to establish a district without the city establishing a local district afterward. However, he said, cities with historic preservation commissions usually establish local districts coinciding with NRHP districts. Once that happens, he said, building owners must comply with special historic preservation codes, a ramification downtown Starkville building owners may not be prepared for.
“It’s not logical that — if a city and area lets an area become a national historic district — that then you don’t protect it by putting it in the local district,” Walker said. “People that would (tell someone to) do that, in my opinion, are people that are trying to sell the issue of the national historic district, but they’re concerned with business owners that don’t want to be controlled under the code enforcement process (of local historic districts.)”
Bill Gatlin, NRHP coordinator with MDAH, said other Mississippi cities do have districts on the NRHP with no coinciding local historic districts.
“We have a number of (national) historic districts in Vicksburg that have been listed for some time, and they have only one local district,” Gatlin said. “It happens quite frequently. There’s a difference between a nationally registered district and a local historic district. If I had my way, one would be a bluebird and one would be a butterfly.”
Other Mississippi cities with NRHP districts with no local counterparts include Pascagoula, Louisville and Brandon, Gatlin said.
Walker said it can take time for local historic districts to be established in response to NRHP districts.
“It may not happen this year,” Walker said. “People may take a stand against it, but eventually, it’s going to happen.”