Now that the Clarksburg Municipal Building Commission has decided to sell the former Clarksburg City Hall at auction, many are wondering not "how much will it go for" but "will it sell." That's a legitimate concern.
Strange as it seems, acquiring the "historic structure" status can often be the kiss of death -- for an old building in an older city location.
The label can scare away a cautious investor. In addition to the high costs of renovating an older property to meet building code standards, the "historic" label creates additional costs for the buyer. Any changes to the structure must satisfy historic preservation standards as well, making requirements of a prospective tenant or user either impractical or unaffordable for the owner.
We think the original purpose of the historic preservation status was a good one. During the decades of urban renewal, there was often little regard shown for outstanding architectural treasures. The wrecking ball and the parking lot became the symbol of urban change. The historic preservation status was a well-intentioned remedy.
In the past decades, however, the realities of urban economics have made this status more of a bane than a blessing. Faced with the high costs -- and the higher risks -- of investing in urban properties, many prospective buyers lose interest.
While a beautifully restored historic building makes its neighborhood better, a decaying, useless building only makes things worse.
A more pragmatic viewpoint would recognize that not every old building can be saved. Otherwise, we'd all be living in Victorian gingerbread houses, brownstone tenements or log cabins.
We would like to see the old city hall saved, and on the property tax rolls, as well. For the short term, the decision to auction the structure is the right thing. If that fails, we applaud the announced intention of the commission to attempt to modify its special status historic status.
Being realistic about the past is in the best interest of this city's future.