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National Register of Historic Places: Strings attached? Not necessarily

Posted Wednesday, August 1, 2012, at 9:33 AM

The Saline County Historic Preservation Commission is in the process of considering a nomination to place the old Fitzgibbon Hospital, 868 S. Brunswick Ave., on the National Register of Historic Places.

This is the first nomination in 24 years for a Marshall place to be nominated.

Given the amount of time that has passed since the National Register was in the news locally, it's understandable there's some misunderstanding about what the designation means. I've heard some concerns expressed about limitations the designation might place on any future owners of the building.

I admit that before I joined the Historic Preservation Commission, I thought being on the National Register of Historic Places meant the state or federal government had to approve any changes to the exterior of the building.

Turns out, that's not the case.

The National Register designation, by itself, does not come with strings attached. It is an honorary designation intended to increase awareness and appreciation for a community's historic assets.

Preservationists, of course, always hope the owners of buildings on the register will protect the historic look and feel of the structure. But there is no legal obligation for them to do so. If the owners decide to paint it pink, add sparkles or tear it down, they can.

That means the owner of a building listed on the National Register has both the responsibility and freedom to maintain or change the building as he or she deems best.

Here's a passage from the State Historic Preservation Office website:

"In Missouri, neither state nor federal law limits the rights of owners of private property listed in the National Register to maintain, manage or dispose of their property as they choose provided that no federal monies, licenses, or permits are involved."

The strings (government oversight and stipulations) commonly associated with the National Register actually come into play when there is state or federal money used for renovation projects.

If a property owner is granted state or federal tax credits to help pay for improvements to an historic structure, the State Historic Preservation Office has to approve plans and will determine whether any changes are consistent with the building's historic character.

That was the case with the recent renovation of the Saline County Courthouse, which received a state grant to help replace the roof. That's the case in Arrow Rock, where the whole village is on the National Register.

On the other hand, the congregation of First Presbyterian "Rock" Church in Marshall is planning to demolish two early 20th century additions to the building and add a new extension. The church doesn't qualify for tax credits, so the congregation does not have to seek the state's permission to proceed.

In the case of the old Fitzgibbon Hospital project, a group is proposing to redevelop the building using state and federal tax credits as part of its financing package. In order to qualify for those tax credits, the building has to be on the National Register or in the process of being nominated.

The question before the Historic Preservation Commission this week is whether the building qualifies for the National Register. It's a separate question from whether the redevelopment project should proceed, which is a matter under consideration by the Marshall Planning and Zoning Commission.

P&Z will take up that question at one of its fall meetings.

Marshall places on the National Register:
Missouri Valley College's Baity Hall, 1988
Buckner House, 1984
Chicago and Alton Depot, 1979
First Presbyterian Church (Rock Church), 1977
Saline County Courthouse, 1977

Saline County places on the National Register:
www.dnr.mo.gov/shpo/Saline.htm

National Register guidelines:
http://1.usa.gov/R878ri



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Eric Crump is a former editor of The Marshall Democrat-News. He lives elsewhere now but still loves Marshall and Saline County. He's trying to catch up on all the stories he should have written while he was on staff.