The city of Superior is full of historic properties. A few are listed on the national or state registers of historic places, but none of them has a local historic distinction. City leaders are hoping to change that.
Applications are now being taken for local designation of historically significant buildings, landmarks and districts. The applications, which are available on the city website, were introduced in late December.
The process is voluntary, and all applications would have to be approved by Superior's Historic Preservation Committee and City Council. Listing a home as historic would open the door to possible funding and tax breaks and would also impose more restrictions on the property owner than a federal or state designation.
“Everybody tends to think the designation is you can’t paint your house a certain color, etc. Those limitations come at a local level, but with those limitations also comes funding, certain tax credits and other grants and assistance programs for property owners,” said Jeff Skrenes, city housing coordinator and planner. “But you can’t get that until you have a locally designated property.”
When Brian Finstad and his husband, Robert-Jan Quene, started restoring their Roosevelt Terrace townhouse, they received Wisconsin Historic Tax Credits because the townhomes are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“Because of that, we won't pay any state income tax for 15 years,” said Finstad, a member of the city’s historical preservation committee. “So in our instance, not only does it not create unwanted restrictions in our lives, we actually receive a benefit from it. A house does not have to be on the national register to obtain Wisconsin Historic Tax Credits, but it does have to meet eligibility criteria. Having a house on the local historic register would help make a case for meeting that criteria.”
Bobbie Morningstar of Superior sees the city restrictions on what owners can do with historic sites as protection.
“You put a lot of work and a lot of heart into these places and you want to see somebody get the place and continue, because we’re just custodians. We don’t own the house, the house owns us,” she said. “That’s why we have them is because we love them and we want them to keep on.”
One of the things that brought Morningstar home to Superior was the city’s reconstruction of Tower Avenue, which brought back the wide boulevards she remembered from her youth. Preservation work on the Empire Block and other historic buildings in the city has also been encouraging.
A self-described “old house person,” Morningstar and her husband, Keith Hoffman, have restored a number of historic homes, including one in Superior’s East End and one in Arkansas. The pair, ages 81 and 73, moved back to Superior in 2017 and immediately began restoring a brick parsonage on Weeks Avenue that’s at least 125 years old.
“You rest, you rust,” Morningstar said.
She picked up an application Wednesday, Feb. 17, hoping to put the old parsonage on the city's historic registry.
Even if a structure is already on the national or state register, the local designation adds another layer.
“There is still value in local designation, as that is where changes or demolition would have to be reviewed and approved by the historic preservation committee,” Finstad said. “It does still regulate, which is necessary to protect the historic integrity, but it is regulation you have invited into your lives versus imposed upon you.”
Superior properties, landmarks and areas have to meet certain criteria to be considered historic. They could reflect the broad cultural, political, economic or social history of the area or state; be identified with an historic person or important event; embody a valuable architectural type or represent the work of an influential designer or architect. Those that are approved for the local registry would receive a plaque to display celebrating the site's historic significance.
Skrenes said the city is currently working through the application process for a number of its own structures, including Fairlawn Mansion.
“If people do apply, we’re happy to work through the process with them,” he said.