The City of Patterson was offered $35,000 from the State of Louisiana to look into becoming a Main Street community.
State Rep. Sam Jones (D-Franklin) made the announcement at the monthly council meeting Tuesday, saying the money did not obligate the city to join the Main Street program, but allowed the city to investigate “whether or not it was a path they wanted to follow.”
“The money will be made available to you to help you walk through the process and see if the city would like to do this,” he said. “The money will be made available through the tourist commission, and you will not have to do a cooperative endeavor with the state because the tourism commission will do it for you.”
According to the Louisiana Main Street Program web site, “Louisiana Main Street is a community-driven revitalization program designed to promote the historic and economic redevelopment of traditional commercial districts in Louisiana. (The program) improves economic management. Strengthening public participation and making downtown a fun place to visit are as critical to Main Street’s future as recruiting new businesses and rehabilitating buildings.”
To have a Main Street program, municipalities have to define a part of the community that is more than 50 years old.
Financial mechanisms include grants, loans and tax incentives to business owners and local government to improve historic district homes and buildings.
Jones said when he was the mayor of Franklin, that city was one of the first in the state to join the program, which is designed to help municipalities assist existing downtown businesses and ensure historic structures and landmarks do not disappear.
“There was a time before the program where 35 to 50 percent of the buildings in downtown Franklin were empty,” he said. “This program also helped the city return to the original lamp posts in Franklin, which were gone. They were originally placed in 1915, and in 1960 with modernization, they were replaced with ugly Cobra lights. But we were able to find the original street light mold from 1915 in a warehouse and recast all the light standards through this program.”
Jones said Morgan City also had great success revitalizing Front Street along the Atchafalaya River using the program.
Addressing possible concerns with the program, the state representative said the program tries to protect all the historic homes and businesses in the district, not by taking them out of use or telling owners what they can do with the buildings, specifically interiors.
“The goal is to try to preserve buildings of historic value,” Jones said. “Old home and building (interiors) can be brought into modern use without changing the original facades.”
He said Patterson can have a historic district — without any use restrictions that actually regulate the inside or outside of the building — as long as the historic area is on the national registry and the historic facades of the structures are protected.
Jones acknowledges some property owners may not like being told what they can or cannot do with structures in a future Main Street District, but resulting increased property values have long-term, positive affects on the community. However, this was of great long-term value to both property owners and the City of Franklin.
“In one case, an owner in Franklin wanted to tear a building down and do something else, and there was a standoff with the city council,” he said. “But the issue was clear — people can upgrade and improve homes and buildings, but they must preserve the historic facades. And as a result, we saw property values go from $35,000 to $200,000 because people knew their property investments in the program would be protected. In 1984 when we did this, some people were opposed to it, but if you tried to take it away now, they would fight you.”