Happy New Year to the MissPres community on our first News Roundup of 2016. Some of you may remember that I used to do the News Roundups a few years ago. Doing News Roundups in 2016 is more difficult than when I did them in 2010 due to the number of newspaper paywalls everywhere, but I was still able to find plenty of historic preservation news that every well-read MissPres-er should know about. This News Roundup will cover much of December’s preservation news with some earlier news thrown in for good measure.
First, are two articles “Ready, set, wait – Developers eager to begin work on historic preservation projects” and “Hopeful signs for restoring state’s historic tax credits” published on December 3 by the Mississippi Business Journal about Mississippi’s tax credits for historic preservation projects. The first article delves into how the tax credits, or lack thereof, have affected various preservation projects in the state. Three examples are given of how tax credits are the essential component in financing downtown development in Water Valley and Greenville and in converting the historic Gulfport Veterans Hospital into the mixed-use Centennial Plaza development. Bill Boykin, a developer hoping to renovate the former Sears Building in downtown Greenville succinctly describes why historic tax credits are vital to downtown development:
“This will be a major economic impact for downtown Greenville,” he said of the more than $5 million restoration project he plans. “We are creating jobs that currently do not exist.”
Problem is, said Boykin, all the work is on hold until Mississippi decides whether to restock its supply of historic preservation tax credits. “For the project to work I need help with the historic tax credits from the State of Mississippi,” Boykin said. “Banks just do not like downtown projects without some tax-credit backing.”
The credits are the difference makers, and “we need them in the Mississippi Delta,” he added.
The developers behind Gulfport’s Centennial Plaza plainly state that losing the historic tax credit ground their project to a halt:
“We had everything in place and were in the process of closing the construction loan when the state ran out of funding,” Neil Juneau said in a phone interview.
“That made a $2.7 million gap in our equity.”
The first article makes a strong case that Mississippi’s historic tax credit is a vital part of developments both large and small and should be renewed. The second article gives a peek behind the curtain at the political machinations in the state house that prevented the credit from being renewed in the 2015 legislative session and the possible difficulties in renewing it in 2016. Part of the article is used by State Sen. Joey Fillingane (R-Hattiesburg) to portray the “preservation lobbyists” (boy, is that weird to read in a newspaper) as the villains that prevented the historic tax credit’s renewal:
Some lawmakers attributed the inaction to the lateness of the pleas for renewed funding. State Sen. Joey Fillingane acknowledged that the late arrival of the funding requests contributed, as did the tax-credit requests falling into a hopper already filled with tax legislation. But the main factor was that preservation lobbyists insisted on a $200 million replenishment “or nothing,” said Fillingane, who, as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, declined to support such a huge increase.
This year, House Speaker Philip Gunn is proposing a $100 million historic tax-credit renewal to be allocated over a 15-year period. “There is definitely going to be a historic tax credit bill this year,” Fillingane said.
He said he wants to avoid a repeat of what he saw as overreach by preservation lobbyists last year. “I hope that proponents recognize this is a cooperative effort” requiring some give-and-take, added Fillingane, a lawyer and Hattiesburg Republican.
“If you come to the table saying ‘It’s this or nothing,’ then chances are you get nothing.”
Nothing would certainly be disastrous for Mississippi preservationists (and developers with an interest in historic preservation) but architect Rob Farr of Cooke Douglass Farr Lemons Architects + Engineers states that the $100 million proposed, “would be absorbed in just a few short months.” Given that the previous credit was not renewed in 2015, if the credit is renewed in 2016, it is quite possible that every developer in the state will treat the proposed $100 million allocation as an ephemeral resource that they must claim immediately since another allocation may never come. The article also contains pro-historic tax credit quotes by Belinda Stewart and House Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Clinton).
The Natchez Democrat has had several historic preservation articles of interest recently.
The Historic Natchez Foundation and the Mississippi Urban Forest Council are collaborating on a project for the Natchez Tricentennial to spotlight the city’s historic trees. It is hoped that the project will add another dimension to Natchez’s history and another tourism selling point. Mimi Miller, Executive Director of the Historic Natchez Foundation, gives an example in the article of the type of tree the two groups wish to spotlight: the McMurran Magnolia (my name for the tree, not theirs). This magnolia is a 175-year-old landmark on the Melrose grounds, with documentation from an antebellum letter written by Mary McMurran stating that her husband John planted the magnolia for her. Miller and Mississippi Urban Forestry Council Executive Director Donna Yowell hope to create a coffee table book or other publication containing the results of this project.
Speaking of the Natchez Tricentennial, there are numerous related events that could be of interest to MissPres-ers. One is the Possibilities Tour on January 9 from 2:00-5:00 p.m. From the Natchez Tricentennial website:
The Tour will take place between the hours of 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. and will spotlight empty buildings in the downtown area of Natchez. This event represents an ongoing partnership with Alcorn State University, Natchez Board of Realtors, and Natchez, Inc.
The featured vacant buildings will highlight guided tours by local realtors and agents in the buildings they represent. Last year’s Possibilities Tour resulted in a number of buildings being leased by entrepreneurs for small business startups and offices.
A special treat in each of the buildings will be the showcasing of the creative economy of the region.
Also, every Monday (excluding various holidays) will be Natchez Legends and Lore presentations on various aspects of Natchez’s history. A full schedule has not been released but there will likely be a heavy dose of architectural and historic presentation history. If any of those presenters talk about doors, windows, closets, rooms, or anything else being taxed, they should be thrown off the bluff.
The National Park Service is conducting restoration work at the William Johnson House and its visitor center, the McCallum House. The McCallum House is receiving a new wooden shingle roof while the Johnson House gets repaired plaster and masonry and a more energy-efficient HVAC system. This work will also result in the Johnson House’s rear dependency being opened to visitors for the first time, with exhibits on the Johnson family after William Johnson’s 1851 murder.
The Ritz Theatre was in the news in early December with theater developer Charlie Watzke expressing interest in the building. Watzke recently completed renovating the Beacon Theatres in Waveland (a non-historic theater formerly known as Choctaw Plaza Cinema or Star Cinema 3) and apparently still has the itch to work on another theater. The Ritz Theatre is probably Natchez’s best art deco building, which in a place that prides itself on Federal and Greek Revival architecture means that the Ritz has often gotten the short end of the stick in terms of maintenance. The Historic Natchez Foundation has put a great deal of effort and money to keeping the building standing, but has been behind the eight ball since, by the time they were given the property, its roof had collapsed after decades of abandonment and neglect. The lobby still has a roof and art deco details and the façade has been restored, so let’s hope that someone will restore this building (which would be more likely with some historic tax credits, hint, hint Mississippi Legislature).
The Democrat reported on December 18 that the group Friends of Our Riverfront (FOR) Natchez is attempting the ambitious and admirable project of trying to link the historically white and black downtowns of Natchez together while simultaneously revitalizing both sections, centered at Canal and Broadway and Martin Luther King, Jr. and St. Catherine, respectively. The group is working on developing and implementing a plan to do so, especially in a way that can link the bluffs to the Forks of the Road.
Finally, because I am tired about talking about Natchez, Natchez Under-the-Hill is bracing for a very swollen Mississippi River as all the water that has inundated Missouri and parts of the Midwest flows downstream. The Mississippi River is both Under-the-Hill’s raison d’être and the bane that has washed most of it away. Thankfully, most of the individuals quoted in the article seem confident that the levees that protect historic Silver Street as well as other businesses Under-the-Hill will do their job. Let’s hope that confidence is well placed. Also, we should probably hope that Rodney escapes the flooding unscathed.
At the other end of the state, The Daily Corinthian reported that a couple has purchased and is in the process of restoring Liddon Castle, the Benjamin F. Liddon House, in Corinth. They are keeping track of their progress periodically on Facebook.
Oxford can be a contentious place in regards to historic preservation. The debate over Maddox Cottage, at 613 N. 14th St., illustrates that point. The Oxford Eagle reported in the article “To demolish, or not to demolish pondered by historic commission” that October’s Oxford Historic Preservation Commission meeting had commissioners pondering the philosophical aims of historic preservation:
“I fail to see what this house contributes to Oxford,” said Commissioner Jack McKenzie. “Some guy from Memphis comes down and decides what is and isn’t contributing and we’re bound by that? There’s homes listed as contributing that definitely aren’t, and some homes that aren’t that should be.”
A quote like that brings me back to the days when I was chairman of a historic preservation commission and had the privilege of “philosophically debating” historic preservation with “fine, upstanding” commission members appointed by “public servants” and “community leaders.” I can still hear their words now: “I ain’t gonna… I don’t wanna… The Gub’ment caint!!!” But I digress. The building in question was constructed in 1930 and is a small, two bedroom cottage with Craftsman detailing constructed out of concrete block, specifically rock face block (near and dear to everyone’s heart here at Preservation in Mississippi thanks to Thomas Rosell and Malvaney’s posts). Although not an antebellum mansion, it is an unassuming little Craftsman cottage that retains its original windows and exterior details and is therefore considered a contributing resource to its historic district, as it should be.
There is also a nice article in The Oxford Eagle about downtown renovations and the various historic architectural details that are often uncovered in such renovations.
In Vicksburg, Anchuca celebrated sixty years of being open for tours with a celebration on December 17. The Vicksburg Post ran a couple of articles about the celebration, which included a new historic marker in front of the house. While somewhat passé today, the historic house tours typified by Anchuca helped put historic preservation in the public consciousness.
Also, The Vicksburg Post published an article about the history of the Bazsinsky House. I admit I was not familiar with that house in Vicksburg, but it is well worth reading more about. The house remained in the same family for roughly 160 years and has various interesting architectural features such as Vicksburg’s only remaining triple parlor (for those antebellum entertainers for whom a double parlor was déclassé) and large faux grained doors.
Now for how I always end my News Roundups: “And that was the news.”
Categories: African American History, Corinth, Greenville, Gulfport, Historic Preservation, Museums, Natchez, National Park Service, News Roundups, Oxford, Preservation Law/Local Commissions, Renovation Projects, Theaters, Vicksburg, Water Valley