Sunday, June 17, 2001

Buildings tell their stories

Preservation consultant is listening

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A historic preservation consultant recently identified 150 Kenton County properties with historic or architectural significance. Most of the buildings, or 85 percent, are residential, while the rest are commercial. The structures are scattered through Independence, Taylor Mill and unincorporated areas along Ky. 17 in southern Kenton County.

        The “historical property survey” commissioned by area planners has a goal of documenting Kenton County's history and helping local governments revitalize some of their older residential and commercial areas as the governor and Northern Kentucky counties put “Smart Growth” programs into place.

[photo] On Sunset Place in Taylor Mill, Margaret Sears walks down the front steps of her bungalow. The street is typical of early 20th century suburban development, a consultant says.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        Identification of these 150 sites is the first phase of a multi-year survey to identify historic properties throughout the county, said planner Larisa Hughes of the Northern Kentucky Area Planning Commission.

        “Historic preservation is an important part of planning and zoning and smart growth,” Ms. Hughes said. “But first, we have to know what historic structures are out there.”

        Historic preservation consultant David Taylor, of Taylor & Taylor from Brookville, Pa., will present his findings at a June 25 dinner meeting of the Northern Kentucky Area Planning Council. Mr. Taylor's firm has done consulting work on historic preservation and community development projects throughout the country.

        In Kenton County, the list of historic buildings and digital images of them will be added to a database that local governments and individuals soon will be able to access, Ms. Hughes said.        

Identification first

    Federal tax incentives for rehabilitating historic buildings in FY 2000.
    Kentucky certified projects: 22 — tied with Indiana for ninth highest in the U.S.
    (Ohio ranked fourth with 39 certified projects.)
    Certified expenses: $10.4 million.
    Average project expenses: $472,231.
    Source: The Kentucky Heritage Council
        Historic preservation advocates say the identification of clusters of historic or architecturally significant buildings can be a first step in the formation of a historic district.

        For example, the Taylor Mill neighborhood of Winston Park, which borders Covington, features a mix of early 20th century suburban architecture, including Colonial Revival, bungalows, and Tudor Revival, Mr. Taylor said.

        Buildings cited in the survey include the Kenton County Courthouse in Independence, the Banklick Christian Church and old St. Cecilia Church in Independence, St. Anthony's late-1920s campus in Taylor Mill that includes the church, convent and rectory, and several barns and farmhouses.

        “Buildings don't have to be grand to be historically significant,” Mr. Taylor said. “They can be little cottages, but they must help tell the story of a community.”        

Grants, support possible

        Three years ago, Mr. Taylor conducted a historic survey of homes near Commonwealth Avenue in Erlanger as a first step toward establishing a historic district. More recently, he did similar research in Boone County.

        Documentation of historic preservation is one of the requirements of the Kentucky Renaissance and Main Street programs. Both provide money for physical improvements in downtowns to entice new business.

        Independence Mayor Tom Kriege hopes to use Mr. Taylor's latest survey to publicize the city's historic commercial buildings, and possibly obtain state or federal grants for improvements in the city's commercial area along Ky. 17.

        “We don't have a lot of money dedicated to downtown improvements in our budget,” Mr. Kriege said. “Hopefully (the historic survey) will help us make some improvements in the downtown Ky. 17 corridor.”        

Other uses of designation

        Besides being used to secure grant money to revitalize downtowns, identification of a historical site must be done as part of a federally-required environmental impact study when federal money is used to build a road or make infrastructure improvements, said Bill Macintire, surveyor coordinator for the Kentucky Heritage Council.

        Historic designation also can help owners of qualifying income-producing properties obtain a 20 percent federal tax credit, so that they can afford to rehabilitate their property, Mr. Taylor said.

        Last year, such projects generated an investment of $10.4 million in the commonwealth, said Scot Walters, historic preservation specialist with the Kentucky Heritage Council. This year, there are already four or five projects under way — each with an investment of about $10 million, he said.

        Through such improvements, property values in the surrounding areas are enhanced, Mr. Walters said.

        Financial benefits aside, historic buildings are a symbol of a community's politics, religion and culture, Mr. Taylor said. They also help tell the story of construction methods, or the tradesmen and architects who helped shape a town's environment.

        “Once they're gone, they're gone forever,” Mr. Taylor said. “If they're not recorded, there's no record they were ever there. It's like there's a page missing out of a community's history.”

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