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HISTORIC DOWNTOWN: The City of La Grande's Historic District is now included in the National Register of Historic Places. Six downtown buildings, shown here, were already listed in the National Register. (The Observer/PAT PERKINS).
HISTORIC DOWNTOWN: The City of La Grande's Historic District is now included in the National Register of Historic Places. Six downtown buildings, shown here, were already listed in the National Register. (The Observer/PAT PERKINS).

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

La Grandes effort to revitalize downtown has received a considerable boost with the designation of an area with 112 buildings as a National Historic District.

The city received word from the National Park Service that the district has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The designation will provide tax incentives and property tax relief for building owners who want to spruce up the exterior of their buildings under certain guidelines, said Community Development Director Mike Hyde.

Major design changes, which must incorporate historic elements of the building, will be reviewed by a city Landmarks Preservation Commission, established last month by the city council.

The city staff probably will be able to handle minor changes, Hyde said.

The new district includes the main part of downtown along Jefferson, Washington and Adams avenues. It is bounded by the Union Pacific Railroad on the northeast, Fourth Street on the western end of the commercial district, Washington Avenue on the southwest and one side of Greenwood Street on the east end of the district.

Parts of Jefferson Avenue west of the railroad overpass on Island Avenue are included. The First Presbyterian Church bordered by the triangular configuration of Spring Avenue, Washington Avenue and Sixth Street is also included.

The area includes buildings that date from 1891 to 1948. Six buildings, including City Hall, are already on the National Historic Register.

Being in the district does not automatically ensure tax incentives dealing with renovations, Hyde said. Those interested have to apply to the city, he said.

The building owner must submit their plans for review by the commission before altering the exterior of the building, Hyde said.

He said the local commission would set up some guidelines, which could be adopted simply as guidelines by the city council. Or the council could make them into law by passing an ordinance.

Changes on the interior of a building are not reviewed. If a property owner is taking advantage of one of the tax incentive programs, then major interior alterations

will be reviewed by state or federal agencies.

Among the incentives is a 20 percent investment tax credit for substantial rehabilitation projects on income-producing property, such as commercial and residential rental property.

Owners with a preservation plan for buildings in the district can freeze the assessed value of the property for 15 years.

That can save a property owner quite a bit of money in property taxes over 15 years, Hyde said.

While property owners in the area have been kept up to date, Hyde said they could be invited to a meeting to explain any new developments.

Of the more than 100 different property owners in the district, there were only three who were opposed to the city seeking the designation.

Getting the designation took quite a while, Hyde said.

In January 2000, the city council listed the formation of the district as one of its top priorities.

Consultants Sally Donovan of Hood River and Donna Hartsman of Boise greatly contributed, as did a historic district task force. The state approved the plan in March.

Getting this designation is a matter of city pride and it could be a potential tourism draw, Hyde said.


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