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Preserve history, but pay the bills too 1/17

January 18, 2002

Preserve history, but pay the bills too 1/17



The Waynesboro Historical Society wants to turn the commercial center of the borough into an historical district. It's sounds good; who opposes preserving history? But before this train starts going too fast, we recommend some research into everything that's involved with the idea.

The proposal grew from a 1991 architectural survey of the downtown. The report went to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Historic Preservation, which ruled that downtown could be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

That idea is drawing more interest now because a bill in the state legislature would give a 20 percent break on the state income taxes of affected property owners, and exempt any material used in a renovation project from sales taxes.

Will it pass? That's unknown now. It probably depends on how much total revenue the state would forego if it's enacted. But if such a law does win approval, the society and the borough council need to carefully consider such an ordinance, and what goes along with it.

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For example, society cites that fact the Mercersburg has passed a similar ordinance. But that only took place after Mercersburg underwent a process called strategic planning, in which planners consider what's possible, as opposed to the ideal outcome.

Mercersburg's planners concluded that the town didn't have the labor pool or sites necessary to attract large industries. And so they focused on tourism and historic attractions instead. What's Waynesboro's plan?

If Waynesboro wants to concentrate on tourism - one of the few ways historic preservation can be justified, economically speaking - it will require a marketing program and other incentives for those who renovate property.

To see what happens when a historic district is enacted without trying to develop a history-based tourist trade, consider Hagerstown, where small retailers are losing out because they get no help competing with malls and strip centers. History is wonderful, but to there's got to be a plan to pay the bills, too.

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