Creation of Hattiesburg historic preservation district in the works

By HASKEL BURNS,

Hattiesburg officials are exploring the possibility of creating a new local historic district in downtown Hattiesburg that would complement the current National Register of Historic Places designation already in place in that area and help protect historic buildings and sites.

During a Monday work session of the Hattiesburg City Council, council members heard from urban development and preservation officials about the proposed Hub City Downtown Historic District, which would incorporate five existing areas to form the district. Those areas – which include Town Square Park, the Mobile Street corridor, the city parking lot on Railroad Street, railroad yards along Gordon Street and structures along the north side of Hardy Street toward downtown – would be integrated to form another district similar to the Parkhaven or Newman-Buschman districts.

“Currently, we have a nationally-registered historic district in downtown Hattiesburg that offers incentives, but doesn’t actually offer any local protection for the historic buildings downtown,” said Ginger Lowrey, planning division manager at the Department of Urban Development.

Russell Archer, historic preservation planner for the city, told council members the downtown area currently consists of 202 official “resources,” including buildings, bridges and railroads. The new designation would bring that number up to 260.

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

“The best way to protect and maintain our downtown, while guiding future development, is to look at it as a locally-designated historic district under city ordinance,” Archer said.

The new district would 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.

“We try to streamline that process as much as we can, so that within 24 to 48 hours of approval, they can proceed with that,” Archer said.

City officials have sent a Significance Report to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and are currently awaiting endorsement from that organization before any steps are taken toward forming the Hub City Downtown Historic District. An upcoming hearing will be held to ensure that everyone who owns property in downtown will be aware of and have an opportunity to be involved in the designation process.

If all goes according to plan, the district will be formed some time in January.

“This is something the city of Hattiesburg should have done 20 years ago,” said David Ott, vice president of the Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association. ““It’s a real good tool to keep people who are short-sighted from being able to do things that affect their neighbors and all of us.

“We want to build communities, and if somebody comes in and thinks they can do anything to their building because it doesn’t affect anybody – well, yes it does. If you tear down something that is significantly contributing to the community – to our quality of our life, to what attracts people to come to the city of Hattiesburg – then you are affecting other people, and that’s why these sorts of ordinances are available to the city.”