Archived Story

Historic ordinance means jobs

Published 8:03pm Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Remember Joann Sporleder?

Forty-five years ago, city fathers found themselves in a “quandary” over how to revive the central business district.

They hired a South Bend architectural firm to evaluate Niles.

Sporleder, for her thesis to graduate from architecture school, dissected downtown.

“Fix up, don’t raze, Main Street” filled facing pages in the April 22, 1967, Daily Star.

Her advice proved ahead of its time. Instead, urban renewal dangled what appeared to be “free money” to city officials, local historian Donna Ochenryder recalls.

“As a result, this whole area, which starts at the river and goes up Main Street to Second Street and down Second to Broadway and back to the river, was designated urban renewal. All of those buildings were torn down,” Ochenryder said.It started with the Riviera Theatre in February 1970, though its marquee lived on in Three Rivers.

As Carl Anderson, co-owner of Andy’s Office Supply, told Ochenryder, “People don’t want to come downtown to an empty dirt lot.”

Riverside Plaza strip mall filled the lot, but isn’t positioned ta take advantage of its scenic view of the river.

To capitalize on the “mall craze,” the idea was to make disparate buildings look similar with Kawneer aluminum facades removed in 2003 in the “Big Brown Takedown.”

Ochenryder refers to Kawneer fronts as “slip covers.” Whatever you thought of them aesthetically, they helped shield “gorgeous” original buildings from being ravaged by the elements.


An expanding


The DDA design committee is in the process of amending the existing Niles residential historic ordinance to include the downtown commercial district to encourage preservation and rehabilitation of remaining diverse architecture.

Only 75 communities enjoy such a distinction.

According to the Michigan Historic Preservation Network: “When an existing building is rehabbed, up to 70 percent of the cost is for labor, and that means jobs for local workers.”

Typically, materials are purchased from local suppliers, unlike new construction where more dollars leave the state.

“Since 1971, historic property rehabilitation has created over 20,000 jobs and generated $1.7 billion in direct and indirect economic impact in Michigan,” said Amanda Reintjes, a greater Michigan field representative.

Fredda Zeiter, an architect who chairs the design committee, said the community needs to become educated about the DDA plans.

“The Niles DDA plans to have this project completed by January 2013. We’re asking for support, so we want people to understand what it is — and what it isn’t.”

A city-appointed commission would regulate significant changes to facades in the historical district, but not interiors. “We want improvements to keep in character. It doesn’t mean you’re going to have to spend more money.”

After documents have been submitted to the state and to City Council, there will be a fall public hearing for community input about ordinance content.

Under Michigan’s 1970 Local Historic District Act, local governments adopt an historic district ordinance containing design review guidelines based on national standards, but each community has latitude to decide which resources matter to its history.

“We inventoried 93 parcels, of which 79 are considered historically significant. This has been quite a challenge because we’re going from the period of 1850 to 1962,” Zeiter said.

Committee member Jeanne Watson, who owns property, including the pre-Civil War Niles Sun, said investment protection such an ordinance gives by regulating exterior changes boosts property values 10 to 20 percent.

“As a property owner, I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t be for this,” Watson said. “It encourages developers to adapt old buildings to current needs.”


Who: Niles Downtown Development Authority Main Street design committee

What: presentations for property and business owners

Where: Riverfront Café, 219 N. Front St.

When: Aug. 21 and Sept. 5, 4:30 p.m. There is also a 6 p.m. presentation scheduled Aug. 28.

Why: to outline financial benefits of a local historic district ordinance, such as tax breaks and grants. A Travel Industry Association survey on heritage destinations found tourists with interest in historic districts spend $668 per visit, compared to $425 otherwise, according to committee member Emily Egan.




  • Just another …..

    As Mr. Carlson said “People don’t want to come downtown to an empty dirt lot.” in the same manner, who would want to come downtown when there is nothing but empty buildings? Get some businesses that people want to visit and they will come. Some times I think it would be better if ALL of the buildings were torn down and a big brand new shopping mall went in its place. What’s the difference except a new building or an old one crumbling that has to be fixed up? Isn’t UP Mall just a down town with parking all around it and no river front view?

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