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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

structures.

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

county officials.

"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

area's history.

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

incentives.

"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

are taken.

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