Historic Preservation is critical for a healthy city

Preservation of our historic structures is important for the health of our Harrisonburg community. Just a few years ago the area to the west of Rt. 11 near Bruce St. was dark, abandoned, and had frequent graffiti outbreaks.

Depot Harrisonburg

Then Matchbox Properties renovated the building where Food Bar Food, Blueline Construction, and The Hub exists now starting a revitalization. Then the Ice House came back to life with JMU, restaurants, Hugo Kohl Jewelry, Black Sheep, and Pale Fire Brewing moving in. Finally our building, The Depot, was renovated. Now this corner of downtown is vibrant, landscaped, and active on a daily basis. This is an example of how you can use existing buildings to activate a space. 

Depot Harrisonburg

The Denton Building is an important part of activating Court Square. Larkin Arts brings foot traffic to this corner of downtown on a daily basis. Street activity builds community. There are also apartments above Larkin Arts providing housing options to those wanting to live in the city core.

I believe Harrisonburg made a mistake as a community when multiple buildings in downtown were demolished to build the courts building and jail. This was an active business community at the time and if those buildings existed today would not only be providing tax revenue for our city budget, but would also create a place for business to thrive. The courts and jail complex buildings are specifically designed to reduce activity on the street outside of them, closing off their walls due to their function.

Taking down the Denton building will grow this dead spot in downtown and hurt Harrisonburg. It not only hurts by taking a thriving building off the tax roll, but also takes away apartments and retail spaces that are creating part of the city we love. 

In the coming days the building next to First Presbyterian Church will come down to create a pocket park. That sounds great, but it will not be a public pocket park, it will be a mostly private park for the church. It is good to have some green space in downtown, but we need spaces that build inclusive community. A functional building in this location would bring business and possibly residential opportunities that are needed. This building is coming down due to lack maintenance over the years to a point where it could no longer be saved. This should not be the path to taking down a historic structure. There should be limitations to building owners city wide that would not allow them to use neglect to demolish a building.

I am not against taking down all buildings. Some buildings do not meet the standard of historic and do not add to the historical fabric of our place. This should be a community conversation about which buildings are important to save and which buildings could be replaced for a higher and better use. We are working on a project at the corner of S. Federal St. and East Market St. where we plan to demolish the existing one story building. The building does not have historical character.

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