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Grand Lake mulls formation of historic district

by Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News
Byron Hetzler/Sky Hi Daily News
ALL | Grand County Newspapers

Grand Lake has always called itself “historic,” and within its core alone many buildings sing the song of the past.

To name a few, there are: the Grand Lake Yacht Club, 1912; the Historic Rapids Restaurant, 1915; the building that houses Humphries (the site of the original Cairns store) from the 1880s; the turn-of-the-20th-century Harbison building with retail shops; and the Eslick Cottage Court cabins and carport, from around 1915.

Three properties in town have been officially designated as historic: The Grand Lake Community House is on the state’s historic register; the Kauffman House (museum) is on the national historic register; and most prominently, Grand Lake Lodge has a National Historic Landmark designation.

Now several Grand Lakers are interested taking the town’s historic nature a step further by incorporating within its boundaries a historic district for the sake of both preservation and to net more heritage tourism dollars.

According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the benefits of heritage tourism range from creating more jobs and businesses, thereby increasing tax revenues, to building community pride and attracting more visitors. A 2003 Colorado study estimates there were 21.3 million overnight pleasure trips to Colorado that year, roughly 24 percent of which included a visit to at least one historic area.

Last week, Dan Corson, intergovernmental services director of the state’s Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation, visited Grand Lake to inform its citizens about the ins and outs of preservation.

A group of architects and citizens who make up the town-appointed Architectural Advisory Committee, a byproduct of the town’s master plan, invited Corson with the goal of exploring the idea of having a historic district in Grand Lake. The committee wants to find out whether preservation should be included in the town’s architectural guidelines, according to both the Grand Lake Area Historical Society and town design review board member Scott Munn.

“For the last four months, we’ve been meeting to compile architectural features and styles of what we consider ‘Grand Lake’ style,” Munn said. “We’ve also been studying Jackson Hole, Steamboat and Telluride.

“Corson, we believed, needed to be brought on board to determine whether Grand Lake and its surrounding area should become a historic designated town with a certified local government,” he explained.

By hosting the meeting, the advisory board hoped to instigate a discussion about whether historic preservation is the “right direction for Grand Lake,” Munn said.

It appears Corson may have swayed some key skeptics.

“Well, when I first went (to the meeting), I was certain that something like this might not work for our community,” said Grand Lake Mayor Judy Burke. “But when I left I thought this might be something we should look into more, or something perhaps we should use.”

Corson said that Grand Lake ” with its history of being one of the original tourist destinations in Colorado, as well as its location at the headwaters of the Colorado River ” is a shoe-in for historic prominence.

“He seemed to think buildings here are really good candidates for it,” Burke said.

If Grand Lake ultimately decides to head in this direction, the town government would become the historic-designating agency for downtown.

“I think it’d be very valuable for the town, there are a lot of heritage travelers who make it a point to visit historic locations,” said Pat Raney, local author of the book “Rocky Mountain Rustic, Historic Buildings in the Rocky Mountain National Park Area.”

“I get the National Trust for Historic Preservation magazine, and they feature towns like Grand Lake and help promote towns that have designations,” Raney said. “It’s a wonderful benefit to tourism, and Grand Lake is unique in Colorado because of its history. Some buildings have been around since the 1880s.

“There are so many places in Colorado that were invented as mountain towns, but they really don’t have the genuine extensive history that Grand Lake has,” he added. “We have the actual physical structures that are still here to prove it.”

Fear of having to surrender certain property rights creates reservations for some people.

But Burke, a real estate agent, found that there are actually fewer restrictions than she thought.

“From the sound of what they are telling us, there are ways to make changes to a building and still have it remain historic,” she said.

According to Corbin, even additions can be added on, as long as they maintain the overall historic character of the structure.

Colorado property owners can take advantage of federal and state tax credit programs, as well as the State Historical Fund, to help rehabilitate historic buildings. Such funding would allow “some of the (Grand Lake) business people the ability to use funds for improved building fronts on older buildings,” Burke said.

From 1991 to 2005, the state rehabilitation tax credit was utilized by 574 projects, for a total of $48.9 million in qualified rehabilitation costs, according to the 2005 update of “The Economic Benefits of Historic Preservation in Colorado” report, prepared for by the Colorado Historical Foundation. And, from 1993 to 2004 the State Historical Fund has distributed more than $142.9 million to more than 2,600 projects.

“Examples throughout the country show that historic preservation is a useful economic development strategy and often a key factor in enhancing property values,” the report states.

It goes on to say that the link between preservation and tourism is well-established.

“Preserving historic character helps support tourism by providing interesting and unique opportunities for visitors, and tourism supports preservation by providing financial resources for ongoing preservation efforts.”

Established in 1991, Colorado’s preservation tax credit was reauthorized by the Legislature eight years later. The available credit is 20 percent of $5,000 or more of approved rehabilitation work on qualified properties, up to a maximum of $50,000 credit per qualified property. The report says that, unlike the federal tax credit, “the state tax credit is available for owner-occupied residences and the vast majority of state tax credit projects have been used for that purpose.”

“One of the things that kind of convinced me,” Burke said, “is that you write the guidelines in your own community; its not dictated by a another group that sets down the guidelines. Because of this flexibility, it may be something usable for us.”

Burke recognizes there is still a long road of research ahead before the town jumps at the chance to create a historic district.

The concept is still in its earliest stages. Even so, Jim Cervenka of the Grand Lake Historical Society says the society plans to pursue the idea and, if the public is on board, would support a local preservation ordinance adopted by the town.

” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail tbina@grandcountynews.com.


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