By BRADEN LAMMERS
JEFFERSONVILLE — Five homes slated to be torn down to make way for Big Four Station and the Ohio River Bridges Project have found a new life.
A settlement agreement reached between the National Trust for Historic Preservation, conservancy group River Fields Inc., the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the Indiana Department of Transportation will dedicate $1.7 million to a historic preservation and enhancement fund.
The money will be equally deposited into the fund by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and Indiana Department of Transportation to pay for several historic preservation projects. Among the top priorities on an eligible project list was the relocation of five homes within the Jeffersonville Historic District slated for demolition to make way for the Big Four Landing project.
The project is a park and greenspace planned at the foot of the Big Four bicycle and pedestrian bridge. A sidewalk in the original plans for the new Interstate 65 bridge, which is part of the bridges project, was removed in favor of redeveloping the former railroad bridge to provide pedestrian access between Louisville and Jeffersonville.
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE FUNDS
The $1.7 million in funding will not all go to relocating the homes in downtown Jeffersonville’s historic district.
However, INDOT Spokesman Will Wingfield said that the relocation of the homes has been given a priority status for the funds. The other project with priority status is the Garvin Brown Preserve in Kentucky, according to the settlement agreement.
Six other projects were included in the eligible project list, and if the money is not spent within two years from the date of the fund’s establishment, the money will go back to the states.
With the deadline in mind, Jeffersonville plans to move quickly on dedicating the money.
“We’re trying to expedite it as soon as possible,” said Jeffersonville Redevelopment Director Rob Waiz.
Wingfield said a contract could be awarded as soon as late February or early March to relocate the homes. And if funding remains, Waiz said he hopes to use some money to rehabilitate the homes inside and out.
Once the structures have been moved, the city will have only a few options. Restrictions in the settlement agreement require Jeffersonville to hold on to the homes for 10 years or be forced to reimburse the fund the money used to relocate the homes.
Waiz said the city could possibly rent the homes to individuals or businesses once they have been moved.
“It would be a very nice redevelopment project,” he said.
But Greg Sekula, director of the Indiana Landmarks Southern Regional Office said his organization is still investigating if the city would have to hold onto the properties for that time period once they are relocated.
“I do think that 10 year requirement would be problematic,” he said.
Sekula offered as a solution that if the city and Indiana landmarks could relocate and renovate the exterior of the structures, they could try and sell them to preservation-minded buyers to rehabilitate the interiors. The money received, if the properties could be sold in shorter period of time, could go back to the grant like in a revolving-loan fund and be used for other worthy projects.
As part of the plan to redevelop the two-block area at the foot of the Big Four Bridge, the city of Jeffersonville had planned to tear down several homes on Pearl Street, between Maple and Market streets.
Sekula asked the city to halt the demolition of the homes in the Big Four Station project area last fall.
While the Jeffersonville Redevelopment Commission pledged $50,000 to move the former Reuben Wells home, a $10,000 offer by Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore to assist in the relocation of any of the other homes slated to be torn down saw no one come forward.
Waiz said with the dedication of funds by the state transportation agencies, five homes can now be moved.
“It doesn’t say that we have to move [the homes], but we have an opportunity,” he said.
He added that the states will have 120 days to put the funds together in the Historic Preservation Enhancement fund.
But which homes will be moved is still being discussed.
“We’re looking to try and save five out of the seven [homes],” Waiz said.
Five homes being considered for relocation are located at 216, 218 and 222 Market St., and 227 and 229 Pearl St. Waiz said two brick homes slated to be torn down to make way for the new Interstate 65 bridge are also being considered.
Sekula said the additional properties are the Prentice houses located at 340 W. Maple St. and 338 Ohio Ave.
He said while they are homes outside of the city’s historic district, they would complement the district if relocated. Sekula also identified another home that would be a property worth consideration at 113 Fort St.
Indiana Landmarks, along with the city, is hoping to move all of the homes identified, but if the two entities are only able to relocate five homes, they are working to determine which ones should be moved.
Waiz added that discussions need to take place with the redevelopment commission about where the city can move the homes.
WHERE WILL THEY GO?
Indiana landmarks and the city are still working to identify where the homes could be moved.
“We have been in conversations with the city,” Sekula said. “They own some land that’s available to them under the purchases for the [stormwater and flooding mitigation] project. [But] nothing’s been finalized yet. We’re trying to be proactive [and] trying to determine what can be done to the homes.”
He added a goal would be to use the homes — which were all built between the late 1800s and 1930 — as in-fill in vacant lots in and around the historic district.
Indiana Landmarks had previously offered its concern about the properties being torn down in the historic district. The news that the settlement agreement included an offer to save some the homes came as a relief to Sekula.
“Landmarks has been concerned about the fate of these properties for some time,” he said. “We were delighted they were able to include this as a way to address the situation.”
OTHER INDOT COMMITMENTS
Beyond the pledge to pay for the relocation of five homes in Jeffersonville’s historic district, INDOT made several other commitments in Southern Indiana.
Among those projects were to try and acquire a preservation easement for the lime kiln located within the right-of-way of Upper River Road; develop a historical marker for the Utica lime kilns; develop a roadside historical marker for the former Indiana Army Ammunition Plant igloos; and prepare National Historic Register nomination documentation for the Colgate-Palmolive Historic District before the end of the year