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Warehouse District receives Historic Places designation

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Peoria officials believe the listing of the city’s Warehouse District on the National Register of Historic Places, which was announced Monday, will help development of the district to pick up speed, largely because of tax credits now available to building owners.

The National Park Service approved the National Register designation Sept. 17, just six months after application was made. The process began when the city creating a River Edge Redevelopment Zone last year.

“This is a huge step forward for the Warehouse District,” said Mayor Jim Ardis. “The assets in that portion of the Warehouse District are tremendous, but it can be expensive to turn a multi-story, century old building into modern living and retail space. These tax credits will be a critical part of the financing package for many of the buildings in the area. This is the result of a huge City effort to first create a River Edge Redevelopment Zone and then prepare this nomination.”

Add 1st District Councilwoman Denise Moore, “The development of the Warehouse District is a critical goal in the City Council’s strategic plan.  I am excited to see this new tool in place to help make our vision a reality.”

The designation, the city believes, will create interest in the Warehouse District and establish the district as a tourist destination. Building owners who are willing to adhere to redevelopment guidelines established for the National Register of Historic Places will be able to access Historic Tax Credits when improving their structures. 

Historic Tax Credits can offset redevelopment costs by up to 45 percent; investors can receive a 20 percent federal tax credit and 25 percent state tax credit when the renovation is done in line with historic standards. The state tax credit program is only available in Illinois River Edge Redevelopment Zones, of which Peoria is one of five statewide. The registration of the area as a historic district eliminates the need to nominate each individual building to the Register, saving property owners time and money. 

Michael Freilinger, CEO of the Downtown Development Corp., said it is worthy to note building owners do not have to adhere to the redevelopment guildelines if they choose to renovate without applying for the tax credits. “It is voluntary. But if they want the tax credits, they have to follow the guidelines. We think they would want to anyway, if they want to attract tenants and tourists to the district,” he said.

“Preserving the original look and feel of the building is what will draw tenants. The owners know the value of preserving the original look and feel. They know a lot of changes will only diminish the value of the building,” Freilinger said.

Among the guidelines is preserving the original look of the historic buildings as much as possible. That includes the original brick work and even signage  ̶  including signs painted onto the sides of the buildings. If windows must be replaced they must be made to be and look as close to the original as possible.

On the inside of the building wall treatments and light fixtures are important historical considerations, Freilinger said. For example, if a brick wall has been left untouched in the original décor, it cannot be covered in the renovation. Conversely, if that brick wall has been covered by plaster, the plaster cannot be removed.

Freilinger said the owners are not expected to restore the buildings to their original condition and use.

Already, he said, building owners and developers are taking officials from the Illinois Historic Preservation Authority office through the buildings to let them know their ideas. While he declined to identify any of the plans already made, he said the city contemplates construction will begin within six to nine months.

“The state tax credits will expire at the end of December 2016. The building owners know that and they wouldn’t even be bothering with these walk-throughs if they weren’t contemplating going to construction pretty soon,” Freilinger said.

One owner/developer who is excited about the designation and the tax credits that accompany it is Pat Sullivan, owner of Kelleher’s and of several buildings in that area who has been working on development of the Warehouse District for a decade or more.

“Oh my heavens, yes, this will get the investors excited and we will see things really start to move now,” Sullivan said when asked if he believes the Historic Places designation would make a difference. “Those tax credits are huge.”

Sullivan said he believes the Warehouse District was ready to launch in 2007 or 2008, but was stymied by the recession that hit about that time. “What’s exciting it that recent studies show the sustainability is still there that was present then,” he said.

Sullivan will be one of the first to get moving since the designation. He and his partners will break ground Tuesday on construction work they plan for the former Sealtest Building on Washington Street. Among the tenants that will locate there are Thyme, the newest restaurant by Travis Mohlenbrink, who also owns Cracked Pepper, Salt and Sugar. Mohlenbrink also plans to put a banquet center in the Sealtest Building, Sullivan said.


About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).