Seventy-eight venerable buildings and properties nominated to the Virgin Islands Registry of Historic Places were presented by the St. Thomas/St. John Historic Preservation Commission at a public hearing Thursday evening. They ranged from well-known public buildings such as Fort Christian and Government House to relatively low-profile places like Daniel's Variety Store on Kronprindsens Gade and the Kean home in Catherineberg.
The hearing at the V.I. State Historic Preservation Office drew nearly 20 interested residents, some of whom own or represent properties on the nomination list. And while inclusion on the list would protect properties from being torn down or grossly altered in a manner inconsistent with the character of historic areas, some in attendance were wary of the financial and regulatory constraints such a designation would entail.
According to architect Chaneel Callwood-Daniels, commission chairwoman, owners of each property will be contacted in the coming weeks and invited to meet with commission members to discuss whether to have their property listed. The commission plans to nominate another 25 properties, most of them in the Charlotte Amalie National Register District, every quarter until a final list is drafted and sent to the Legislature for approval.
Part of the impact such a designation might ultimately have on the community as a whole was brought home forcefully in a video presentation on "heritage tourism" in such places as Charleston, S.C., Tucson, Ariz., and St. Louis. There, preservation efforts have been a boon to local economies, bringing in thousands of the sort of tourists who stay longer and spend more than the average cruise-ship passenger.
In addition, Callwood-Daniels pointed out that "preservation creates one-and-a-half times more jobs than new construction. And it lets property owners utilize sweat-equity in lieu of cash, if they so choose, in renovating a property."
But Alton Adams Jr., whose family home is nominated to the list, expressed concern that the skilled workers needed for historic renovation are hard to find on St. Thomas, and enlisting such workers from off-island drives up costs.
Myron Jackson, director of the State Historic Preservation Office, suggested that the office could serve as a clearinghouse of contractor information for such projects, putting property owners in touch with skilled workers. And he acknowledged that not all property owners will see historic designation as beneficial.
"It's important to realize the cost of insisting on conservation guidelines," he said. "In some area, that is often interpreted as someone taking their property."
The preservation office's architectural historian, Sean Krigger, also pointed out federal tax incentive programs for those restoring significant properties. But Krigger and others conceded that the local government had done little to make such restoration more feasible financially.
The registry of historic sites is aimed at preserving not just particular buildings but entire neighborhoods, and to that end includes step streets and open spaces such as Rothschild Francis "Market" Square, wells such as the one at Norre Gade No. 25, and cemeteries.
Callwood-Daniels also presented a newly proposed Charlotte Amalie Conservation District, whose outlines would follow those of the already extant National Register District.
For more information, call the State Historic Preservation Office at 776-8605.