District detailed

Downtown seeking national distinction

Architectural historian and historic building pathologist Jessica Flores, right addresses the Ishpeming City Council Wednesday about efforts to put downtown Ishpeming on the National Register of Historic Places. Flores was hired by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation as part of the Project Empire Initiative in 2017. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

ISHPEMING — The Ishpeming City Council on Wednesday heard an update on the effort to place the city’s downtown district on the National Register of Historic Places.

Jessica Flores, an architectural historian and historic building pathologist hired by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, said the city’s downtown district could achieve that distinction by May.

“I am hoping to get my first draft to the state historic preservation office in January and then submit it for final approval to the board in March,” Flores said. “So my work will be completed in March and it takes them about six weeks to review it, and then in May they will approve it and then, in May, that’s when it’s sent to the National Park Service.”

Flores said after almost a year of deed research and conducting interviews with local business owners, residents and local historians, she envisions Barnum Street behind the Mather Inn and Carnegie Library as the district’s northern border and Division Street as the southern border. The district would extend east all the way to the Gossard Building on Cleveland Avenue with the Ishpeming Fire Hall and DPW building bordering the district on the west.

“The reason I am picking up some of these properties is because of their architectural integrity, or so they have retained their architectural integrity — meaning they have retained a lot of their historic building material and they have played an important role in the history of Ishpeming,” Flores said.

Of the 40 properties that are located within the proposed historic district, she said 29 are considered “contributing properties” under NRHP guidelines.

“They are contributing. That means they can tap into various financial incentives for rehabilitation,” Flores said. “There are 11 non-contributing properties (within the proposed district boundaries). Those buildings have transitioned so much that they don’t retain their fabric and they are located in the district, it doesn’t mean anything positive or negative, it just is what it is.”

Flores said she will meet with the owner of the Butler Theater on Main Street this week to discuss the building’s future.

She said the theater is a pivotal piece in both historic preservation and economic development efforts because it will give visitors an additional incentive to come to and stay in the downtown area.

“The theater is your anchor,” Flores said, “and other reinvestment efforts can happen once we get the wheels moving on that track.”

She encouraged Ishpeming property owners within the district to contact her to discuss incentives for rehabilitating contributing properties.

“I am always open to hearing about rehabilitation opportunities,” Flores said. “So as I am doing this — writing the history of your community, the architectural legacy, all of that stuff, I am working with local historians so I can get some of that local feedback as well. But I am always looking for people that have a contributing building in the district and do they want to do something with it. Because while I am facilitating this process, those buildings that are contributing can tap into those incentives now as it’s in process.”

Anyone wishing to discuss the project should contact Ishpeming City Manager Mark Slown for more information, Flores said.