With 201 years of history under its belt, the city of Belleville is again seeking national recognition of its heritage and historic buildings.
The city wants to establish a National Register Historic District for an area northwest of the Public Square. This would be the city’s third such district if it’s approved by state and federal officials.
Last year, the Town of West Belleville Historic District was approved. This includes buildings in the area around 10th and West Main streets. The village of West Belleville later became part of Belleville. The Belleville Historic District was approved in 1976 and it includes older neighborhoods to the east of downtown.
The proposed new historic district is generally bounded by Illinois Street on the east, Third Street on the west, West C Street on the north and West Washington Street on the south.
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Michael R. Allen, a consultant for the city for the nominating process, said the federal designation would give recognition to the “commercial and institutional heart of the city.”
If the district is approved, property owners could qualify for federal historic rehabilitation tax credits.
“In the last few years, Illinois has actually led the nation in the use of this tax credit in terms of dollar amount but none of that money has flowed into downtown Belleville or into this district,” Allen said.
“Property owners can use this to sustain these buildings and bring them into the future,” Allen said. “And so in that sense, this designation really is as much about Belleville’s future as it is about its past.”
Allen will present the proposed district to the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council on Friday morning in Springfield. If this board approves the plan, the agency’s staff would then send the plan to the National Park Service, which decides whether the district is listed on the National Register.
Allen, who is director of St. Louis-based Preservation Research Office, conducted a public meeting at City Hall about the proposed district on Wednesday, and no one spoke in opposition to it.
In the nominating form, the district is called the Downtown Belleville North Historic District.
Jack LeChien, a former alderman and current member of the Belleville Historic Preservation Commission, asked if the name of the district could be changed in honor of George Blair, who on March 10, 1814, donated an acre for the town square and 25 acres for a new county seat. Blair was allowed to name his gift and called the town Belleville, French for “beautiful city.”
Allen said he would ask state officials about whether the name of the district could be changed.
Larry Betz, president of the Belleville Historical Society, said, “Any time we can get historic recognition for any part of the city, I’m all for it, absolutely.”
However, Betz said he wished the district was larger than it is.
The proposed district focuses on buildings erected between 1860 and 1960.
Buildings in the district include the Belleville School District 118 administrative offices at 105 W. A St. This building originally was a U.S. Post Office when it opened in 1911.
Also in the district is the former Washington Theatre that opened at 222 W. Main St. in 1913 and the former Turner Hall built in 1923 at 15 N. First St. This hall subsequently was home to the downtown YMCA. It is now occupied by a company run by Kurt Artinger.
Artinger has already renovated a portion of the old YMCA and has plans for more renovations. He said he has been in the process of getting federal income tax credits for his project.
Artinger’s company, Replacement Services, has more than 40 employees who recently moved to the building. The firm develops software for insurance companies and it assists the companies with handling jewelry claims.
Artinger said getting federal recognition for the district would be beneficial to the future of downtown.
“I’m a firm believer in the long-term vision of downtown being the type of place that the millennials (and) urban dwellers would want to live so this can be a piece of the puzzle when you’re looking at a very broad scope as far as redeveloping the housing, redeveloping the type of amenities that are around here for people as they move in.”
Allen outlined some of the highlights of a National Register Historic District:
▪ The “foremost reason” for listing a property is that it gives the owner the opportunity to seek a 20 percent federal historic tax credit. Allen said significant commercial projects usually are the type of renovations that qualify for this credit.
▪ The listing does not place obligations on private property owners. You can make changes to your property without the consent of any governing agency.
▪ If a homeowner does undertake a substantial renovation in accordance with guidelines, he or she is eligible for a property tax freeze for 12 years in Illinois.
▪ Private property is not subject to public access or any local historic district zoning.
To pay for services by Preservation Research, the city obtained a $14,000 state grant and contributed $6,000 of city funds, according to Eric Schauster, the assistant director of Economic Development, Planning & Zoning for the city.