The pending sale and redevelopment of Pierce's Corner in Old Town Suwanee likely won't happen unless federal Historic Register status -- and the resulting tax credits -- is obtained, officials said recently.
It's "not feasible" to buy and redevelop the vacant, two-story building on Main Street without those credits, Norcross attorney Michael Deming Sr. said Saturday in Suwanee. He and other members of the Deming Group LLC and the Downtown Development Authority, which announced the lease-purchase deal with the Deming Group in December, met with Old Town property owners about the matter.
"We'd like to have the road cleared to go through" with the process of buying and redeveloping the site, Deming Sr. said.
"We're making an investment to help us and the community ... and hope it will spur other investments by other people," he continued. "There is no downside to a historic district."
DDA officials noted that it is easier to obtain National Register Historic District status for Pierce's Corner if a wider geographic area also is approved. So they have begun the process of seeking that status for both, though formal boundaries in Old Town have not been set. Still, enough resident objections could derail such a district.
"Why not benefit as many people as possible?" DDA vice chairperson Beth Hilscher, an Old Town attorney, said of the decision to establish a National Register Historic District.
Such a district almost certainly would include Main Street as well as the iconic Everett Music Barn on Stonecypher Road.
Ken Kocher, a principal with Piedmont Preservation who is a consultant with the DDA, said officials should have a better idea in "a couple of weeks" whether the status is feasible. Formal approval can take up to 18 months. But Kirby Glaze, a consultant who is working with the Deming Group, noted that work has begun on other such projects when the process hits a tipping point.
When formal boundaries are established, Old Town property owners would receive a letter asking whether they want to be part of a historic district. If more than 50 percent of the residents object, the district won't happen, said Matt Dickison of the city planning department.
Initial work is done through state authorities, with federal approval likely if the state grants HD status.
Supporters of a historic district in attendance were LaDonna Greiner, co-owner of the Creative Clayhouse on Main Street, and Jennifer Falk and Kathleen Webb, co-owners of the Everett Music Barn.
Tax credits of up to $300,000 -- more than the would-be purchase price for Pierce's Corner -- would become available to the Deming Group.
And both residential and income-producing property owners would be eligible for tax credits if a National Register Historic District is established in Old Town.
Credits are different from deductions in that credits are a dollar-for-dollar benefit. Credits can be carried over several years.
National Register districts include the Fox Theater in Atlanta and Balboa Park in San Diego, where the world-famous San Diego Zoo is located.
Some in attendance were skeptical of the plans, feeling like they have been misled by city officials in the past.
"There is no malice," City Manager Marty Allen said. He urged those in attendance to "pick up the phone" and call him at City Hall if they have questions. Also stressing her accessibility was Alison Starnes, the City Hall point person on the DDA.
Said Greiner, "Let's not let a lack of transparency in the past cloud this issue today."