What I want a Local Westfield Historical Preservation District Commission to look like. (and no I do not want to be on it)

We are once again discussing the preservation of the downtown Westfield Historical District and again we are attempting to form a committee that lacks stakeholders, reality of value and disregard for those working really hard to make downtown Westfield a great city for many generations to come.  I would never say that having a historical district is bad and in fact having old cool building’s around really does make a visit to new cities more inviting and a neat option for businesses to locate in storied old locations.  But to create a commission that overseas a private owners property without the players at the table seems backwards.  So I began to stare out my beautiful back windows on my acre plus lot that I own and ponder what a Historical Preservation District could look like in Westfield, if I made all the decisions.  

Formation:  Why does this need to be a city run organization?  Groups like the Downtown Westfield Association or Historical Society are much more in touch with downtown activity and values than randomly appointed residents.  What if one of these groups took it upon themselves to create some standards and guidelines for voluntary property owners.  This could create some consistencies and a great resource for owners to make improvements.  Of course this would be on a volunteer basis and encouraged as new owners come through.  This group could organize a few times a year to discuss ideas and projects underway or even share what other communities have done to cohesively theme their redevelopment.  It does not need to have a Mayor or City Council driven agenda but instead driven by those that own and value the properties.  I would like to think that most properties with any real historical significance are owned by people already wanting to preserve them and if they really are historical they will hold their value as redevelopment occurs.  But it puts the stakeholders in charge of their own destiny where it belongs.   No I do not want to be at these meetings. 

Identification:  I love an old building with a story and we have a couple of those, with real rich stories that hold some history for our small community but identifying what is and what is not historical should be more difficult then it is.  Just because you went and had a soda somewhere with papa or got your first haircut inside, that does not make it historical.  I remember absolutely everything between the ages of 6 and 41 but that doesn’t make the places they occurred that important.  We need to have a strict standard of entry, for really historical properties and at that point they are held in high regard.  You would think the underground railroad existed in every address between Springmill Rd and Ohio the way some people talk about homes in our downtown.  We also need a register that can answer noteworthy questions and identify significant events and I am not talking a place where someone had their first job.  Real, historical properties that bring real history to our community in mass.  It would give some credibility to the efforts for sure.  No I do not want to be at these meetings.

Preservation:  Money.  Everything takes money to sustain itself and one of the downfalls of many organizations is they have a neat idea but no means or ability to execute it.  I really think an organization, with the level of importance that so many feel this has, should be able to find and raise the funds to do some neat things.  There are hundreds of grants out there, private endowments and generous private citizens that want to help keep old things nice.  If the group would become self sufficient they would be able to make some great decisions and not force property owners to conform to what they believe is important.   What if the historical society had an annual event to increase money and awareness?  I know several of them and they are sharp connected people that could fill a room and find others with similar mind sets.  Maybe a strategic board member that has experience in grant writing and would prepare necessary requests for public funds?  Asking the city to police this in my opinion is a shortcut and will not maintain its integrity over generations.  It’s always easy to drum up a rule for others to follow but it’s better to create a plan for others to get excited about.  No I do not want to be at these meetings. 

Oops you forgot to preserve your historical building:  One thing I do not understand is suddenly we think these properties are historical yet several of them have been owned for many many years without any preservation, until the cash drawer shows up.  We may need to accept the fact that some of these buildings have been allowed to crumble and just not worth moving or putting the responsibility on others to bring back to life.  It is a shame if a building had that much history but why didn’t anyone do anything for the past 30 years to preserve it?  So some of these will have to go to make room for the next important building or development.   Many times the people telling others to preserve their properties are the ones that sat by and watched all the cool stuff get torn down way before it became “important”.  Thats a tough one for me.  

I don’t think the need for a Historical Commission is zero but I do think it’s important enough to be well thought out and done the right way for our community.  There are things we can do as a city from a zoning perspective to avoid any further mistakes but as a community and property owners, I think there are other things we can do to be more affective and intentional.   Just think if we do this right we could have grandkids talking about the historical buildings we saw built during our lifetimes.   I think there is no better time to rally the residents, property owners and stakeholders of this district and present a really neat plan to go forward, that doesn’t involve the government.  

Curt has been in the Indianapolis Real Estate business for over 15 years and spent his first years learning all aspects of commercial management and brokerage.  He has had great success in managing existing commercial projects and new retail and office developments.  Curt specializes in building owner representation and purchases in the Westfield Indiana market as well throughout the Indianapolis Metro area.  Curt is passionate about growing the local Westfield community and in his free time  volunteers with Student Impact and raising 2 children with his wife Jennifer.