Historic Preservation Commission looks to add more local sites to list
The East Baton Rouge Parish Historic Preservation Commission wants to increase the number of local landmarks it has designated.
The move is an effort to raise awareness of Baton Rouge’s points of interest and help the properties potentially qualify for state and federal tax credits.
Only three locations in East Baton Rouge have been designated as local landmarks by the HPC: The Pastime Restaurant, St. Joseph’s Academy and Longwood Plantation. The goal is to increase the number of landmarks in 2014.
“Last year, we only designated one local landmark, Longwood Plantation,” said John Sykes, chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission. “There’s a lot of great stuff, we could designate four or five a year.”
Sykes developed a list of more than 90 properties with help from fellow commissioners and staff members at the city-parish Planning Commission.
That list includes everything from the Pentagon Barracks on Third Street to Pinetta’s restaurant on Perkins Road, from the Southern University Machine Shop to Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church.
“These are places we think are considerable landmarks locally,” Sykes said. “Quite a number are eligible to be on the National Register of Historic Places.”
The criteria for selecting properties were vague, just that they were established visual features of the neighborhood and community. Along with designating more landmarks in 2014, Sykes said he would like to see the Historic Preservation Commission work on establishing a definition for the designation.
“Probably in the whole parish there are a couple of thousand things that could be and should be on that list,” said William Fontenot, a member of the commission.
The local landmark designation could include properties that aren’t generally eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, such as cemeteries.
Property owners, historical societies or other groups would have to petition the commission for landmark status.
“We can’t just point at something and say ‘Ohh, that’s a landmark. That’s a landmark,’ ” Sykes said. “It has to be brought to us.”
Along with raising the profile of a site, by designating properties as local historic landmarks, the Historic Preservation Commission would have jurisdiction over the site, including establishing a requirement to get a certificate for any demolition or exterior modification, said Colin Magee, a land-use and zoning coordinator with the city-parish Planning Commission.
The commission plans to set a goal for how many properties it hopes to give landmark designation in 2014 at its Feb. 19 meeting.
“We want to recognize those places that make our town unique,” said Carolyn Bennett, executive director of the Foundation for Historical Louisiana and a former chairwoman of the preservation commission.
Randy Wesley, owner of the Pastime, said having the landmark status has been “great” for his Beauregard Town restaurant because it shows the business has been an important part of Baton Rouge.
“It promotes that we have been around for a long time,” Wesley said. The Pastime was nominated for the designation about six years ago.
Joe Delpit, president of the Chicken Shack, said he’s interested in pursuing landmark designation for his Acadian Thruway restaurant.
The Chicken Shack has been open since 1935 and is the oldest continuing operating restaurant in Baton Rouge. It made the list as a potential local landmark.
“I’m very much interested in looking at it,” said Delpit, a former member of the Louisiana Legislature and the first black city council member. “Economically, this could open up some more opportunities, with tourists coming in.”
Another possible property on the list is the Commerce Building at Third and Laurel streets downtown. T.J. Iarocci of New Orleans is redeveloping the property.
Plans are to have 93 apartments in the building, ranging from studio units to three-bedroom models, along with a rooftop restaurant, a fitness center, a third-floor private events deck and a rooftop infinity edge pool.
Michael Lang, a partner and development manager, said the landmark designation wouldn’t have much of an impact on the Commerce Building, since it is already in the Third Street Historic District.
The developers have applied for historic tax credits to help with some of the $22 million redevelopment cost.
“This might be more relevant to someone outside of a district,” Lang said. “But from a global standpoint, the historic tax credits are great for us and it’s a really important program.”