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Borough urged to pursue National Historic District

Published December 10. 2010 05:00PM

The "coal company town" of Lansford could qualify for grants, tax breaks for restoring old buildings, revitalize existing business and draw new ones if it succeeds in being designated a National Historic District, a local historian told council on Wednesday.

Dale Freudenberger of the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor and the Lansford Historical Society on Wednesday told borough council the borough has been deemed eligible to apply for the designation by the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission.

Freudenberger is working through the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor to create National Historic Districts in both Lansford and Palmerton. He said the historical society has obtained a matching grant through the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission totaling $15,000. It used the money to hire a historic preservation consultant, Ben Harvey, who will assess the borough's buildings over the winter. In early spring, Freudenberger said, Harvey will begin doing research, writing and documentation required for the National Register of Historic Places.

He said public meetings will be held in the coming year to allow people to voice their opinions on the project.

"The entire process will take about a year to a year-and-a-half," he said. By then, Freudenberger said, "we will, hopefully, receive notification that Lansford has been approved for the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic District."

He said that in February, 2003, representatives from the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission toured the town and developed the perimeter of what could be a National Historic District. The area covers most of the town, except for a few areas, including the very eastern end, where there are modern stores.

"You're probably looking at three-quarters of the Borough of Lansford," he said.

While the historical designation would increase the borough's value as a tourism attraction, Freudenberger stressed it would not impose requirements on property owners.

Freudenberger outlined the economic, cultural and protective benefits of the designation, which identifies properties whose owners may be eligible for federal tax credits for certified historic rehabilitation projects, documents historical resources, and provides a measure of protection for the impacts of federally funded, federally licensed and federally assisted projects.

The designation could help save and restore buildings that are sitting vacant in the borough, he said. He cited the Aiken building in Tamaqua, an old vacant factory that was, with the help of historic preservation tax credits, converted into apartments.

Freudenberger urged council to think of the designation "as a tool. It's just a designation. If you do nothing with it, it doesn't harm you, it doesn't hurt anybody, doesn't hurt any residents or private property owners. But if you take advantage of it, it can bring you benefits."

There's now only one National Historic District in Carbon County, and that's in Jim Thorpe, he said.

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