The entire process took more than two years, and involved surveys, hiring consultants to help the Commission navigate the process, procuring grant money to pay those consultants and getting approval from city and county government, plus state and federal commissions that oversee historic areas.
When the city gave its approval in September, the commission was handed some degree of control over 100 properties, but exactly how much won’t be determined until actual redevelopment work starts on them, if it does. Owners have the option of removing their properties from the district; two have already done so, Walley Morse said.
“It was a lengthy process,” said Morse, secretary of the Joint Greenville/Washington County Historic Preservation Commission, which pursued the designation . “But if it was easy to do, everybody would do it.”
The most obvious benefits of an area landing on the National Register of Historic Places is the availability of federal tax credits and preservation grants investors can use for redevelopment. Those same tax credits and grants played a big role in the redevelopment of Jackson’s King Edward hotel and adjacent Standard Life building, two revitalization projects that turned either empty or mostly empty buildings into residential and retail centers. The designation also places into a federal database areas that developers use to find spots whose available incentives make them ripe for investment.
“Really, all you have to do is look at any historic downtown district at any town in the United States,” Morse said. “It protects the value of the property. In most cases, it increases the value of the property. Let’s say you have a piece of property in a neighborhood that’s going down. If you can get that property on the National Register, it stabilizes the value. That’s pretty important.”
Some of the downtowns in Mississippi Morse said the commission saw as examples of having success after being listed on the register include Columbus and Hattiesburg, both of which have married traditional downtown areas anchored by locally owned shops and residential lofts with expanding retail sectors driven by national franchises.
“The only difference in us and those places is we’re 20 years behind them,” Morse said. “All of this should have been done 20 years ago.”
Now that the historic designation is in place, Morse said the next step is to start marketing downtown. It’s an effort that will involve a lot of agencies.
“A lot of people aren’t aware of the tax abatement programs that come with this,” Morse said. “They’re not aware of loans that are available. That will be a big part of it.”
Redevelopment will likely start with the old Sears building, said Betty Lynn Cameron, director of Greenville’s Main Street Association. And the finished product will ideally include residential lofts, which have proven successful in towns like Columbus, Hattiesburg and Yazoo City, as those places have redone their downtowns. Her association has already fielded interest from investors who have roots either in Greenville or the Delta, Cameron said.
“And beyond that, we need basic things,” Cameron said, including retailers and restaurants. The Main Street Association, Cameron said, started about a year ago sprucing up downtown’s buildings, removing and repairing facades and applying new paint.
“We had a pretty (the historic designation) would happen eventually, so we wanted to get a head start on taking advantage of it,” she said.
That was part of the “Greenville Rising” campaign former mayor Chuck Jordan started shortly after he was elected last December. Jordan resigned in October and passed away in November from pancreatic cancer. “Chuck definitely started this,” Cameron said.