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North Bend downtown area nominated for historic designation
NORTH BEND _ Part of the North Bend downtown commercial
district has been nominated to become a historical landmark, a move that has
produced mixed reactions in the community.
A Landmark designation places importance on downtown's
historic identity and establishes a set of regulations for remodeling certain
buildings' exteriors. While changes will be regulated, financial and design
assistance will be provided to building owners as incentive to revive the
The district includes 17 buildings and two vacant lots located
between Main and Sydney avenues north. Most of the sites are along North Bend
Way, with two on the west side of North Bend Boulevard North.
Many of the buildings in the nominated area were constructed during
the "heyday" of the Sunset Highway, which took place from 1915 to
1940. The downtown business area has historically provided services and
goods for miners, loggers and tourists, and served as an important stop
between the mountains and Puget Sound.
More restored buildings and an official historic designation could
result in an increase of tourists coming to town, according to city and
"Heritage tourism is one of the growing industries where people
are wanting to go to places that have character and a sense of place,"
said Michele Finnegan, management assistant for the city of North Bend.
Finnegan said if the district is approved for Landmark designation,
a brown historic district sign will be placed near the highway exits,
which usually brings tourists to town. She said that North Bend's Economic
Development Committee started thinking about the designation last year.
"They've had the foresight that historic preservation is a key to a
revitalized downtown. This could bring a great economic boom to the city
and be what downtown is supposed to be the heart of the city," Finnegan said.
Usually an individual building is designated as a landmark, but
this time, city officials have nominated an entire district to preserve the
At a recent hearing, the city of North Bend's Landmarks
Commission took public testimony on the matter. Commission members were to
have decided if the district meets Landmark designation criteria. But, they
chose to wait one more month to make a decision because there was not
adequate public notice. Conflicting dates were announced for last week's
meeting, so several building owners were unable to attend.
Certain criteria must be met to obtain a Landmark classification.
According to King County Landmarks and Heritage Program
requirements, a building or district must be more than 40 years old and have
"integrity of location, design, setting,
materials, workmanship, feeling and association" to qualify.
"King County has made a series of decisions that support
landmark building owners because it is a social responsibility to preserve them,"
said Julie Koler, historic preservation officer for the county's Landmarks
and Heritage Program.
Koler explained that the program is successful because it restores
the building's original identity while at the same time providing financial
"Many people said they would not restore buildings if not for this
program," she said, adding that there is no requirement to restore structures
in the district. "It does not affect people unless exterior changes are made,
then they must be approved."
The county offers an incentive program for those who reinstate
their building's former look. One of the most popular incentives is tax
breaks. The owner's property taxes do not go up to reflect the building's
increased value from restoration and can be locked into a lower rate for 10
years. Design assistance is also offered to help the owner.
"I'm all for it [Landmark designation] because there are lots of
benefits to it," said Steve Margolis, who
owns a building in the historic district.
"All a building owner has to do is spend a little bit of money to fix the front
up and they save on taxes."
Margolis and his wife Barb recently restored their Iron Age store
to resemble the original Kelsko Meat Market, built in 1920.
Susan and Dale Sherman are beginning to restore the old
McGrath Hotel, one of the buildings in the nominated district, built in 1922.
The Shermans have already remodeled a storefront in Snoqualmie and
enjoy bringing structures back to their original state.
"It was really wonderful to meet with the county and have help,"
Susan Sherman said. "The program works; it speaks for itself."
But not everyone is pleased with the Landmark designation. Some
business owners see it as just one more set of regulations.
George Wyrsch is a member of the Economic Development
Committee for North Bend. He said he has mixed feelings about the designation
but feels that overall, it will be good for the city.
"From a property owner's standpoint, more government is not a
good thing. I don't know any property owner that wants to have more
government regulations for his property rights," he said. "But the bottom
line is that something more needs to happen in downtown North Bend.
Many people have made efforts to restore their buildings and the important
thing is that [remodeling incentives have] been made available to all
property owners in that group."
Wyrsh owns several businesses in the city, but none are located in
the proposed Landmark district.
Another public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. on July 27 at the
train depot. The commission is expected to make a decision after comments