Historic Preservation: Why Historic Designation Is Invaluable to Main Street Communities

February 28, 2022 | Ben White

The National Register for Historic Places contains many amazing places that have historical and/or architectural significance that can aid communities in pursuing revitalization. Some examples include the Cape Girardeau Commercial Historic District, the Hall of Waters in Excelsior Springs, and the Joplin YMCA building. The National Register of Historic Places is a list honoring districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that meet the criteria of significance. The significance falls into several categories, but the predominant ones are location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association to a specific era, person, and event within the past 50 years. You can learn more about these criteria by reading National Register Bulletin 15: How to Apply the National Register Criteria for Evaluation. 


The National Register designation of districts and landmarks is a valuable tool in the preservation tool belt. However, there are a lot of misconceptions about what this designation means.  


First, the government can’t tell you what to do when renovating your building. This designation does not prohibit work from occurring on the interior or exterior of the building and the government will not be able to claim you violated a law. The designation does provide the guidelines for renovations to follow through the Secretary of Interior’s Standards in order to retain the historic significance of the building that qualifies it for designation and what makes it attractive to heritage travelers. Therefore, in following the established guidelines you are able to have a greater return on investment on your renovation through the economic benefits it provides, especially when it comes to heritage tourism.


Second, you don’t have to allow public access to your property. If you are listing your residence, for instance, this does not open your property to give visitors free reign to step on your property for a tour. Property rights laws still apply, providing that security.  However, it means that there is formal recognition of the property’s historical and/or architectural significance.  

Many heritage travelers look for these designated historic places in which to visit and spend money, so going through the formal designation process is important to attract these kinds of people. Heritage travelers have been shown to spend 2.5 times more than ordinary travelers when visiting communities. In addition, it opens up the property for potential preservation incentives including state and federal grants and tax credits for rehabilitation. This helps drive down the cost of renovation and redevelopment and strengthens the building’s standing in the community. 


To learn more about the process of listing a building or historic district on the National Register of Historic places, visit the Missouri State Historic Preservation Office here:  

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *