Downtown Forest Grove makes history
Downtown Forest Grove is now officially recognized as a historic district, the city government has announced.
The Forest Grove Downtown Historic District was named to the National Register of Historic Places — the United States' official list of buildings, structures, sites, objects, and districts significant in American history, architecture, and archeology — with the concurrence of the Oregon State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation and the state historic preservation officer.
The downtown district marks the fourth Forest Grove district to be so recognized. However, the most recent of designations might be the most significant.
"Those districts are all residential in nature," senior city planner James Reitz said, referring to the Clark Historic District, Painter's Woods Historic District and Walker Naylor Historic District elsewhere in Forest Grove, Washington County's oldest incorporated city.
He added, "Downtown districts have more opportunities for financial benefit."
Forest Grove's Historic Landmarks Board Chairman Holly Tsur agreed, but added her and their appreciation for the fact that this designation will mean a lot towards best preserving the city as it was, and hopefully will continue to be.
"On behalf of the Forest Grove Historic Landmarks Board," she said. "We are so excited knowing that our downtown's irreplaceable historic buildings now have much greater chance of further withstanding the tests of time because of this new National Historic Register designation."
Listing in the National Register is an honorific designation intended to recognize a property's significance and encourage its preservation, in addition to aiding downtown businesses by way of grants, loans and other tax credit programs specifically for historic districts available through the State Historic Preservation Office for rehabilitation projects to promote preservation.
One of those financial benefits is the ability to freeze tax value during and after a rehabilitation project. If a building owner within the historic downtown district opts to renovate their property, the state offers the ability to freeze the tax value and hold it for up to a 10-year period after rehabilitation. The state also offers grant eligibility, including facade reconstruction for up to $20,000 — referred to as "Diamonds in the Rough" grants, meant to restore or reconstruct the facades of buildings that have been heavily altered over the years.
Such renovation benefits and incentives are in stark contrast to those available in the city's other three historic districts. In those cases, Reitz said, the city imposed restrictions on how buildings can be remodeled to ensure they retain their historic character.
The Forest Grove Downtown Historic District spans one parcel north of 21st Avenue on the north, Ash Street on the east, two parcels south of Pacific Avenue on the south, and A Street on the west.
Reitz said that the process, which started early in 2019, concluded more quickly than originally planned, thanks in large part to the confidence of existing business owners and the City Council.
"We're having this conversation about six months sooner than I was initially anticipating," Reitz said. "But that's a good thing."
Reitz said city officials wanted to prove to downtown business owners that historic designations didn't have to inhibit property owners, but in fact could be beneficial to them.
"They weren't sure they'd have the support of the downtown district people, so they wanted to show them that these things weren't restrictive."
Forest Grove's four historic district designations is the second-most in the Portland metro area. Elsewhere in the state, Ashland also has four historic districts, while some larger cities, including Albany and Corvallis, have three.
"The only city in the metro area that has more than us is Portland, and they've got 14," Reitz said. "But they've also got more than 600,000 people and we've got 25,000, so I think we're doing pretty good."
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