An 18-acre area of Hamilton’s downtown last month was quietly added to the National Register of Historic Places, an action that recognizes the area’s architecture and historic significance — and also can help make future redevelopment of historic buildings far less expensive.
The new Hamilton Downtown Historic District includes 39 “contributing resources,” including two buildings that previously were listed, and 10 that do not contribute to the historic significance of the area.
The two buildings that already were listed on the National Register are the Butler County Courthouse and the Dixon-Globe Opera/Robinson-Schwenn Building.
“Hamilton is the seat of Butler County, and we had a lot of historic districts, but no big historic districts downtown,” said Samiran Chanchani, the principal at HistoryWorks LLC, based in West Chester Twp., who prepared the nomination documents.
The July 18 addition finished a 1½-year process that included review by the state and then the National Park Service.
“A long process, but every minute has been worth it,” Chanchani said.
With the designation, “the historical and architectural heritage of Hamilton’s downtown, and its contributions to the city, the county and the state’s history is recognized,” he said.
Buildings that are part of the district are along the following streets: High, Court, Maple, Ludlow, South Front, South Second, and Third.
When restorations are historically accurate, the federal government gives 25 percent tax credits toward rehabilitation costs for every building that contributes to the historic fabric of historic districts. On top of that, the state of Ohio grants tax credits of up to 20 percent for such projects, although within the state’s program, projects must compete against each other for those tax breaks, Chanchani said.
“So you can have up to 45 percent of the costs of rehabilitation covered,” he said. “Forty-five (percent) of the costs of rehabilitation can make a difference in a decision to say, ‘Yes, the building can be a viable business,’ versus the decision to demolish it, and turn it into another parking lot.”
More developers are taking advantage of such credits, according to Margo Warminski, preservation director for the Cincinnati Preservation Association.
“There are more and more developers in this part of the state who are taking advantage of those credits to bring new life to underutilized buildings and help revitalize business districts,” Warminski said.
Officials from Hamilton's CORE Fund, which is working to redevelop buildings in the historic district, were not immediately available to comment on the designation and how it may aid their efforts.
Warminski said she last visited Hamilton’s downtown a few years ago to give a presentation, “and I was very favorably impressed by all the work going on,” she said.
In particular, she applauded the removal of modernistic metal facades added to buildings during the mid-20th century. Those removals helped expose the historic look of downtown structures, she said.
A variety of architectural styles are represented in the new Hamilton Downtown Historic District, including Gothic Revival, Late-Victorian Italianate and Renaissance Revival, Beaux-Arts, Art Deco and Mid-Twentieth Century Modern, according to the city’s submission.
“The period of significance for the district spans 1855 to 1966, the time of the greatest development of the district,” according to nominating documentation.
The area east of the Great Miami River has been experiencing a revival, and officials now are focusing on developing the area west of the river, along Main Street, into an entertainment district that they hope will benefit from a proposed sports complex at the site of the former Champion Papers property.
Hamilton’s downtown “has great potential,” Warminski said. “Good things are happening there — new businesses moving in, people creating market-rate housing, great buildings being restored to new uses.”
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