Chelsea's downtown headed for National Register of Historic Places

In what could mean a lift to tourism and economic development in the city of Chelsea, portions of the city's 19th-century downtown are expected to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places this spring.  The proposed historic district covers Main Street from Orchard to North Street, the 100-blocks of Jackson and West and East Middle Streets, and also the First United Methodist Church and the Rockwell Building, according to Ellen Thackery, Southeast Michigan field representative of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The short explanation of what this means is that the National Park Service has deemed these properties worthy of preservation. The designation is often a boon to downtown revitalization, as commercial property owners in the district can qualify to have up to 20% of their rehabilitation costs refunded in the form of a credit against federal income tax liability.

"It spurs private investment so one building gets rehabilitated and it starts to catch on in the community," Thackery explains. Many Michigan communities have made good use of the federal program, including Royal Oak, Rochester, Detroit, Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Holland, Linden, Lowell, Calumet, and Menominee.

Owners often package the federal tax credits with the Michigan Historic Tax Credit, Thackery says, which reduces state income tax liability by up to 25% of expenditures. However, Chelsea may not qualify for Michigan's tax credit, which is limited to communities with a population of 5,000 or less. Chelsea's estimated population is 5,032. If 2010 census estimates are revised downward, that may change; however, Gov. Snyder's recent budget proposal calls for eliminating the Michigan Historic Tax Credit altogether.

One point on which people are often confused, Thackery says, is that being named to the National Register is strictly an honorary designation. "In a national register district you can do whatever kind of work you want to do to your property, and there is no review process. If you choose to participate in that federal tax credit program, then there is a review just to make sure the buildings are treated kindly and with respect," she explains.

Along with encouraging rehabilitation, Thackery adds, a "heritage tourism" opportunity exists. Chelsea will be included on the National Park Service's list of travel destinations and agendas.

"It's a very charming, very attractive downtown so I think being listed on the National Register is going to help draw more people to it and Chelsea commercial property owners in the district can put it in their materials as a little feather in their cap."

Source: Ellen Thackery, Southeast Michigan field representative of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network and the National Trust for Historic Preservation
Writer: Tanya Muzumdar

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