A downtown Anniston event keyed to historic preservation will offer ideas to business owners for improving their property and adding “vibrancy to downtown,” a development official said Friday.
To be held Thursday, May 30, from 6-8 p.m. at the Wet Whistle — in the Caldwell Building at 10th and Noble — the event will gather ideas and volunteers with the hope of involving the community in revitalizing the Downtown Historic District. Main Street Anniston, a branch of Anniston’s city planning department, is tying the event to National Historic Preservation Month.
“There are some different incentives that we hope to roll out for people to make improvements on the facades of their buildings, add a new sign, add vibrancy to downtown,” said Reilly Johnson, Main Street director. “We don’t have that program available just yet.”
Johnson said the social event at the Wet Whistle is meant to “grow community support and volunteerism for the beautification and preservation of downtown.”
Johnson said Main Street Anniston is in the process of placing historic photos in the windows of vacant shops. Members of the Anniston Historic Preservation Commission said utilizing the vacant space will make the districts more attractive to tourists.
John Valieant, chairman of the Anniston Historic Preservation Commission, said the city had no designated historic districts when he joined the commission in 2012. Now the city has four, including the Downtown, West 15th Street, Tyler Hill and McClellan districts. All but Tyler Hill are listed on the National Register of Historic Places with the federal park service, according to Valieant.
“There are probably more districts that could be included but some areas don’t want to do it,” he said. “There are lots of rules and restrictions for historic districts so some residents just don’t want to do it.”
Johnson said the downtown district being on the National Register makes it stand apart from downtown districts in other cities.
“Some of those buildings were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and we are very fortunate to have the stack of buildings we have in our downtown,” she said.
Valieant said the Anniston Historic Preservation Commission manages the changes business and building owners hope to make to their properties, ensuring the changes are within guidelines.
He said one of the commission’s biggest concerns is the demolition of vacant historic districts, such as the 123-year-old Anniston Land Company building that was demolished in 2012.
“We definitely want to advocate for historic preservation, which is in our title, but also to protect the various districts and their historic structures so they do not tear them down or demolish them,” Valieant said. “And when they do repair them, they rehabilitate them to the point that gives the historic nature of the building.”
Valient said choosing to demolish a historic property is difficult.
“My first month, we had to discuss the demolition of the Land Company building. That was the first vote I had to make, and it was tough to do but there was nothing else that could be done about it,” he said.
Valieant said the commission has requested that the Anniston City Council name May Historic Preservation Month for the city. The council did indeed make that proclamation Tuesday night.
“The proclamation establishes that the city recognizes and supports the objectives of the national trust of historic preservation and recognizing that it’s a month of recognition of those goals,” Anniston city planner Toby Bennington said. “Typically, it’s more of an awareness-type month.”
Bennington said the proclamation came so late in the month because it is the only city council meeting for May.
Once historic buildings are lost, according to Johnson, there’s no getting them back.
“With everything that’s disposable, historic districts are full of stories,” she said.