Expanding the definition of national historic districts, so more can benefit

Sep 3, 2019

Across much of Buffalo, there are National Register historic districts with significant tax benefits for people who fix up their homes inside the district. That is not true for much of the city's East Side, but something is being done about that.

On the East Side, many of Buffalo's old neighborhoods are vacant lots or swaths of vacant lots, making creation of historic districts difficult. When the Broadway-Fillmore district was created, demolitions limited it to 270 properties because so many of the old buildings were gone.

Now, with money from the Preservation League and a state grant from Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, Preservation Buffalo Niagara will manage a historic context study. Executive Director Jessie Fisher said the study will look at the effect on neighborhoods of urban renewal decades ago.

"If we can make an argument to the state and to the National Park Service that part of the history of this neighborhood is actually these urban renewal interventions that have happened, then the fact that there have been these demolitions may be less of a barrier to communities who want to partake in this program," Fisher said.

Fisher said that is important because of the benefits of being in a National Register Historic District—not only those tax benefits, but a sense of being a district with a history, like Broadway Fillmore and districts in the rest of the city like Allentown.

Fisher said the idea is to work around rules to cover the entire city.
"Because the East Side has been so impacted by these sort of insensitive urban renewal efforts, we really want to make sure that we're spending time and making sure that we are including every neighborhood in the City of Buffalo in the benefits of historic preservation," she said.

Fisher said the idea is to alter the process of creating National Register historic districts, because they don't consider communities where so many old buildings are gone. This context study will look at different ways of looking at a community, so it can be potentially opened to the tax and other benefits that go along with being a national historic district.

"Look at the origins of communities, or the origins of neighborhoods, and certainly that's an important part of the story," Fisher said, "but communities have evolved over time and sometimes those stories are just as important as the stories that took place in 1855. There are stories that happened in 1965 that are just as important and we want to make sure we are asking the right people the right questions."