Making Jackson's past the historical present

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Much attention has been given to Jackson's progress.

But some of the city's uptown merchants will soon find out how much attention should be given to its past.

A new effort at forming a historical district uptown is underway in Jackson.

When asked about details of the possible district -- like eligible buildings and potential costs -- Tom Strickland said he didn't want to give away any specifics until all of the uptown building owners had been approached.

That will happen sometime after Tuesday, when consultants introduce the idea to a Jackson Chamber of Commerce task force, set up by chamber director Ken Parrett.

The historical designation would mean tax credits for any building owner who wants to renovate a building. Proponents of the idea say the designation would add more prestige to the uptown business district and give the area more pull at receiving grants to improve the aesthetics of the district, like sidewalk improvements.

Strickland, who owns one of the oldest uptown buildingsand has already refurbished it for offices, is the main person behind the project.

But there can't be anyone more excited than Tracy Bonner, owner of Tracy's Place, a popular coffee shop on Main Street. Bonner is passionate about her old building and about the history of uptown Jackson.

"This is thrilling," she said. "This area is too beautiful to let go downhill and not make it a showcase."

A friend of Bonner's donated some siding for upgrades to the front and rear of the building, but Bonner is holding off on the installation until she sees what's going to happen with the historical district.

Bonner hails from Meridian, Miss. In that town, she said three historical buildings were going to be demolished, then the downtown area was designated a historical district.

"Now, it's the hottest spot in town," she said.

Some of the district's proponents, including Melinda Winchester of Jackson, said that prior attempts to organize a district failed because of misconceptions.

Winchester works for a St. Louis firm called Lasfer Associates, the same consultant that worked on Cape Girardeau's Marquette building.

She has worked in several Missouri towns, including Louisiana, Mo., while finishing her degree in historical preservation. She has done some basic preliminary work for a possible Jackson district, but won't do too much unless there is backing by a group of merchants on High and Main streets.

Winchester said the designation will not force property owners to do anything. They can keep their property as is, she said. The only time they would have to conform to federal standards is when they apply for tax credits.

"It will make property value go up and benefit the owners," she said. "On the tax credit rehabilitations, [the district] can rest assured it will be done historically correct and won't get the green-paneled treatment.

"We're really excited about it. We're looking at Main Street, High Street and maybe a couple on Court Street and we'd like to get the county on board with the courthouse. That's not on the register and it needs to be."

The register is the National Register of Historic Places. Winchester said any participating building within the district would automatically be put on the register, which is the requirement for the tax credits.

Winchester said some of the uptown buildings date as far back as the 1890s, although she won't know specifics until she gets the approval to do more research.

Parrett, the chamber director, said it's important for people to know that nothing has been determined yet.

"This is just something we're exploring," he said. "No one will be forced to participate, but the tax credits give you an incentive, especially if you are going to do some renovation anyway."

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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