An amendment to expand the South Columbus Historic District could be adopted by the end of August, officials from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History said during a meeting with residents Thursday evening at City Hall.
James Bridgforth, the national register coordinator from MDAH, and Jennifer Baughn, MDAH’s chief architectural historian, presented a map of the updated South Columbus Historic District based on a survey approved by the Columbus City Council in February 2020.
“The South Columbus Historic District was established in 1982, but it was never properly surveyed,” Bridgforth told a gathering of about a dozen citizens. “Even if (the district) had been surveyed then, we like to redo surveys at least every two decades. This allows us to see how the communities have changed over time and helps municipalities do preservation and planning.
“The original 1982 district ended with structures built in 1932,” he added. “The update will include those built up until 1970, which means we can include more structures.”
If the update is approved, it would add approximately 150 businesses and residences to the district, making them eligible for certain tax credits and other benefits.
Bridgforth and Baughn stressed that properties which are part of a National Registry Historic District do not affect property owners’ ability to alter their buildings or require them to meet any standards in making those changes, though Bridgforth added local governments may write their own ordinances regulating those alterations.
“What this does is protect property owners from government projects that might affect the area, say a new highway,” Baughn said. “Being on the national registry would be something that could prevent that sort of thing.”
Baughn said the only conditions that would be applied for alterations of building on the registry would be those projects that are funded by state and federal historic preservation tax credits. Under the federal tax credit program, businesses in historic districts are eligible for a 20 percent tax credit, which comes on the condition that any improvements meet with measures in place to protect the historic integrity of the original building.
In the 2020 legislative session, Mississippi lawmakers approved a 25-percent state tax credit that would apply to both businesses and residences. It would also require owners to meet certain historic preservation standards.
Expanding the district
Bridgforth provided maps of the updated district, which expands the district farther east on Main Street as well as a large area to the southeast of Mississippi University for Women. The boundaries of the district are roughly set from Main Street to the Mobile and Ohio railroad tracks, from the Tombigbee River to 15th Street South.
The map indicates nine individual sites, of which seven are located along Main Street. The new district includes the old South Central Bell building at 1002 Main St.
The updated map also removed four areas that had been previously designated as part of the district.
“We’re taking those out because they are empty lots with no structures on them,” Baughn said.
The National Registry Review Board will meet to rule on the amended historic district on July 15 in Jackson.
Anyone who owns property in the area who objects to the amended district can express their opposition in a letter to the review board prior to that date.
With the review board’s consent, the amendment would go to the National Park Service, which oversees the national registry, for final approval.
Bridgworth said the National Park Service has 45 days to act on the Review Board’s recommendation.
“It’s highly unlikely the Park Service would reject a recommendation,” Baughn said.
South Columbus is one of three historic districts in the city, including the Central Commercial District and Burns Bottom District. There are 232 historic districts statewide.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]