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Hamburg’s Main Street nominated to become national historic district

Historical Preservation Chairman Damon Ayer stands with a plaque at Main and Buffalo streets, detailing the history of “White’s Corners,” which is what the intersection was once called in 1820. This plaque is one of many put in place by the commission.
Main Street in the Village of Hamburg may soon be in good company with places such as Charleston, S.C., the French Quarter in New Orleans and the Chautauqua Institution, as it is one step closer to being designated a national historic district.

The village’s Historic Preservation Commission was recently granted state approval to continue with the nomination process, which would designate the section of Main Street between Lake and Buffalo streets on the National Park Service’s register.

However, this designation would not affect how property owners choose to maintain or change their estate, said Damon Ayer, chair of the Historic Preservation Commission.

“A national registered district is the least restrictive district that you can put in place in a community,” he said “There is absolutely no downside to this designation. No obligations, no restrictions and no oversight to worry about.”

The National Register of Historic Places considers a historic district to be “a geographically definable area, urban or rural, possessing a significant concentration, linkage, or continuity of sites, buildings, structures, or objects united by past events or aesthetically by plan or physical development.”

Ayer explained that the designation is just governmental acknowledgement the area is a valuable historic resource.

“Everyone’s life will go on exactly as it did before,” he said. “There will be no difference, other than we will have some beautiful bronze plaques saying ‘You are entering a national historic district.’”

Even so, Ayer believes the designation is well worth the year’s worth of effort the HPC and village board has put into it.

According to the HPC, becoming a national historic district would “secure the kind of stewardship needed to protect and maintain (Main Street’s) valuable, historical properties for future generations to witness and appreciate.”

“Main Street is where it all developed,” said Ayer. “These buildings are well-maintained and they tell a story. As you drive down Main Street its very easy to see the linear history of how the village developed.”

The historic designation would also offer state and federal tax credit opportunities.

“If a property owner wants to do a major project and if the building sits in a historic district, they are automatically eligible to apply for historic tax credits, up to forty percent on the project,” said Ayer, who added that if the owner chooses to take advantage of the tax credits, it is only then that any governmental oversight would take place.

“That’s when you would have to work with the state and National Parks Services and follow their set of criteria for projects,” he said.

Gaining the recommendation from New York State’s Historic Preservation Office was the biggest hurdle, said Ayer, adding that the application will be reviewed by the National Parks Service in September.

“Once they give the okay, we’re in,” Ayer said.

Property owners on Main Street will be asked to attend an informational meeting set up by the state.

“They will answer questions, talk about the process and the availability of tax credits,” Ayer said. In order to move forward with the designation, the state must receive 51 percent support from the property owners.

Creating a historic district was a goal of the Historic Preservation Commission since its inception in 2001.

Other notable accomplishments of the HPC has been the installation of signs and plaques at key village locations which describe the origin and history of the sites. The commission has also designated several homes and commercial properties in the village as local landmarks.

Ayer added that the village board and Mayor Thomas Moses has been “overwhelming in their support” of the historic designation project, which Ayer calls a “win-win for everyone.”

“It’s a win for the community because we achieve national recognition, and it’s a win-win for the property owners if they choose to take advantage of federal tax credits,” Ayer said.

However, he added this would not be the first time Hamburg has received national attention.

“We have been nationally recognized for our streetscapes, our Route 62 project and our walkability as a community,” said Ayer. “This is just another feather in our cap.”

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