The city is poised to join several other Western New York communities in establishing a Historic Preservation District.
Documentation will be submitted soon to the state Office of Historic Preservation seeking status that will allow the city access to federal historic preservation funds and technical and legal assistance.
At its Dec. 4 meeting, the Historic Preservation Commission voted to create the Downtown Historic District, which includes Sweeney Street from Manhattan Street to Oliver Street; Manhattan from Sweeney to Goundry Street; Webster Street from Sweeney to Main Street; Main from Sweeney to River Road; Tremont Street from Manhattan to Oliver; and Goundry from Manhattan to Oliver.
"We're starting with the downtown area because it's the hub of what we want to do," said David Walders, chairman of the nine-member panel created in January 2005. "And it's so important that we all work together to keep to the historic theme in that area."
"It's exciting being on the commission and helping steer it in the right direction," he added.
Walders said the panel has a good relationship with the Community Development Department and its director James Sullivan and with Mayor Lawrence V. Soos.
"The next step might be making Goundry Street a historic district," said Walders. He said such a designation would offer financial assistance to people wanting to convert some of the large old homes -- many of them dating to the lumber baron era -- into bed and breakfasts for example. Several of the architecturally significant residences have been divided into apartments.
The commission also has several city churches ready to be nominated for historic status.
Commission members and other city officials believe that the city's wealth of history and 19th century buildings -- which include many commercial buildings downtown -- give it the potential to become a preservation showcase that would be a magnet for tourism.
In July, Julian Adams, local government coordinator for the state Historic Preservation Office, spent two days touring the city's landmarks. Commission members say he was very enthusiastic about what he saw.
Once the city gets the historic designation, private property owners might qualify for federal investment tax credits to rehabilitate income-producing properties listed in the National Register, convert multiple dwellings back into single-family residences and convert historic homes to nonresidential use.
Walders said the commission will review properties nominated for landmark status and make recommendations and referrals to the mayor, planning and zoning boards, and the Common Council.
He said eligible properties must have contributed to, or be directly related to, the city history; embody distinguishing characteristics of a particular design; or be the work of a designer whose work significantly influenced an age.
Commission member Rae Proefrock said that properties in historic districts increase in value.
The commission meets at 7 p.m. the first Tuesday of every month in City Hall.