Council creates Hub City Downtown Historic District

By HASKEL BURNS,

Hattiesburg City Council members have approved the creation of a new local historic district in downtown Hattiesburg that would complement the current National Register of Historic Places designation and help protect historic buildings and sites, although a few areas in the original proposal will be excluded from the district.

Council members voted 3-2 during last week’s special-called meeting to approve the measure, which incorporates several existing areas to form the Hub City Downtown Historic District: Town Square Park, the Mobile Street corridor, the city parking lot on Railroad Street and railroad yards along Gordon Street. Structures along the north side of Hardy Street toward downtown, which were included in the original proposal in October 2018, will not be taken into the district.

This district becomes the city’s sixth historic district.

Ward 2 Councilwoman Deborah Delgado and Ward 5 Councilman Nicholas Brown provided the two votes against the measure.

“This was the final step in establishing this new historic district specific to the downtown area,” said Andrew Ellard, director of the city’s Urban Development Department. “Certain development applications or permit requests will also be subject to review by our (Hattiesburg) Historic Conservation Commission, and this final motion just elected to exclude a few properties that the council decided not to include in that district.”

Although a nationally-registered historic district already exists in downtown, the new Hub City Downtown Historic District is designed to offer local protection for historic buildings in the area. With the new designation, the district will function similar to the Parkhaven or Newman-Buschman districts.

Russell Archer, historic preservation planner for the city, said at a previous council meeting the downtown area currently consists of 202 official “resources,” including buildings, bridges and railroads. The new designation will bring that number up to 250.

According to numbers provided by department officials, the downtown area has lost 78 structures to demolition or new construction since the 1960s.

The new district will require building owners seeking to make external changes to facilities to contact the Department of Urban Development to seek a Certificate of Appropriateness, which is separate from a building permit. Interior changes are not reviewed by that commission.

“A lot of people have put work into trying to make sure that we’re protecting those properties that carry a lot of story, meaning and character in that downtown area,” Mayor Toby Barker said. “So that’s something that went through the Historic Conservation Commission, and we heard from business owners, we heard from residents.

“As with anything, there’s the potential for being tweaked, both now and some time in the future. So we’re glad to see that those protections will extend to those areas, and it will preserve the character of those areas.”

Ward 4 Councilwoman Mary Dryden said the Hardy Street areas were omitted from the plan following recommendations by the conservation commission.

“The areas that are being excluded do not have historical relevance,” she said. “My intention here is that we do not do anything that’s going to hold back development (in downtown).”

Delgado said when the proposal was made to create the district, she was concerned about the fact that it included certain parts of the Mobile Street area and Twin Forks Rising.

“That might be a problem for any future interest in development in those areas, and I still have that concern,” she said. “As a consequence, I’m not going to support this motion.”

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