Large crowd for hearing on Aledo Downtown Historic District

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record
Dick Maynard, foreground, speaks in favor of Aledo Downtown Historic District at public meeting Jan. 13 at Aledo fire station.

A large crowd turned out Tuesday (Jan. 13) at the Aledo Fire Station for the Aledo Downtown National Register Historic District public meeting. The informational session outlined the process for obtaining National Historic District status for downtown, the proposed boundaries of the district and allowed time for questions.

Proposed nominations are submitted to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, which notifies affected property owners and local government and, such was the case Tuesday, solicits public comment. A comment sheet was also available at Tuesday's meeting.

The IHPA is reviewing Aledo's nomination. The Illinois Site Advisory Council will vote on it Feb. 26. Complete nominations, with certifying recommendations, are submitted by the state to the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service then makes a listing decision within 45 days.

Erica Ruggiero of McGuire Igleski & Associates Inc. of Evanston, the preservation consulting firm working with the city, presented the program, which lasted about 90 minutes.

The local Historical Preservation Committee was started in 2014. City Administrator Bob Mahrt told those in attendance there was some work along these lines done in 1998. The Mercer County Courthouse, the old jail (the Slammer B&B) and the Mercer County Fairgrounds are already on the National Register.

Ruggiero noted District is "only an honorific list. There are no restrictions on use of property," future sale of property or changes made to buildings in the District once it is established.

"You can do whatever you want," she said. "You can demolish your building, if you want," although she added the hope would be that does not happen.

To be eligible for a 20 percent tax credit for work done on a building, it must be income producing and be one of the "contributing" buildings in the district. Buildings must also be older than 50 years. Two buildings downtown are older than that but are considered "non contributing" because changes have been made to alter the original architectural design.

It was pointed out that the tax credit could pay for tuck pointing on the many brick buildings downtown, as well as awning work, roof work and more.

To be considered eligible, a building also must have a significant architectural history, landscape history or illustrate engineering achievements.

A number of people in the audience expressed concerns the designation was a step toward a local landmark ordinance. It was pointed out that if Aledo ever wants to establish a local ordinance, it can do so without being listed on the National Register.

"There are so many steps before a local landmark ordinance can be framed," Ruggiero said. "It will take years if it were to ever happen. It could easily take 10 years."

She said Carbondale, for instance, has local landmark districts but no national district.

Monte Schell, chairman of the Public Building Commission, asked how important the courthouse and the old jail are to the proposed district.

"I would assume since they're already registered, they give credence to it," Schell said.

Ruggiero said that is not so.

"No building in the district is more important than any other building," she said. "It's a district."

Tarah Anderson of Rock Island, who grew up in Aledo, is the liaison to the local Historical Preservation Committee. She spoke in favor of the designation a number of times during and after the meeting.

"In 1998, there were citizens on board trying to get a district," she said, "but the city wasn't on board. Now the city is on board.

"I currently don't live in Aledo … but I was born and raised here. … It (National Register designation) could aid tourism. … You can learn a lot about Aledo and Mercer County just reading these three documents (nominating documents for the courthouse, old jail and fairgrounds.)"

Economic development benefits were also cited by some, especially with the local tax increment financing district (TIF) ending in about five years.

Dick Maynard, owner of the Slammer and a number of other downtown properties, agreed the district would be an asset.

"It's a benefit, it's a plus. It's not a minus," Maynard said.

Others pointed out this is a proactive step, one that allows all the buildings in the district to qualify for tax credits, rather than individual building owners having to apply piecemeal.

After the meeting, Anderson said there is another reason she believes the designation is important.

"I believe this is a step toward educating our children why Aledo is important," she said.

Accomplishing that might make them less eager to leave upon finishing school, Anderson added.

"It's historically significant, based on the historic development of our community," she said.