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Demolition delay ordinance could help protect historic structures


July 11, 2013
<b>This building at 155 Chestnut St. was built in 1916 and was the home for a Willys-Overland automobile dealership. Damaged by the gas explosion last year, its inclusion on the National Historic Register of Historic Places does not protect it from being demolished without recourse.</b> <br>Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs

This building at 155 Chestnut St. was built in 1916 and was the home for a Willys-Overland automobile dealership. Damaged by the gas explosion last year, its inclusion on the National Historic Register of Historic Places does not protect it from being demolished without recourse.
Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs

By G. Michael Dobbs

news@thereminder.com

SPRINGFIELD — With the recent demolition of the Allis Mansion on the campus of Mercy Medical Center, Robert McCarroll, member of the Historical Commission, believes that a demolition delay ordinance will be a way to forestall the destruction of other historical buildings.

McCarroll explained to Reminder Publications that unless a building is located in a local historical district, it doesn't have much protection from being demolished without some sort of review or consideration,

"Only a local historic designation gives really strong protection," he said. Buildings that have been named to a National Register Historic District are not afforded the same level of protection.

The ordinance is now at the City Council and McCarroll is hopeful action to make it law will take place. If enacted, the ordinance would protect a building for one year.

He added the Historic Commission has been working on the ordinance "for a while," and that 100 communities in the Commonwealth have similar laws.

If such an ordinance had been in place, the demolition of the Allis Mansion would have been delayed, giving more time to find potential developers.

Although McCarroll said he believes the administration of Mercy medical Center made "a good faith effort, the time line was very tight." A developer would have to have been prepared to undertake an estimated $3 million renovation of the building.

He called the demolition of the mansion "a major, major loss."

He said there are other historic buildings that are not in protected districts that could be demolished, if the ordinance is not approved. The large building at 155 Chestnut St. that was damaged by the gas explosion last year is one of them. Built in 1916, the multi-storied building was originally part of the city's automotive sales district and was added to the National Historic Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Although the building had been used by several businesses and a church up until the blast, it is now vacant with several floors missing windows and open to the elements.

McCarroll cited the former Smith Carriage Company in the South End on Park Street is another location on National Historic Register of Historic Places. It is near the buildings currently being renovated for a new Caring Health Center facility.

Either of these buildings could be demolished, he noted, with little recourse. He said that both could be renovated into housing, offices or artist's lofts.

One of the problems that developers face here, he added, is that while the cost of rehabbing a building is same throughout the state, the re-sale and rent potential for such projects is less in the Springfield area.

"It makes it daunting," McCarroll said.

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