By Scott Smith
Tribune staff writer
It’s hard to blame Kokomoans for having a certain stoicism when it comes to tearing down historic properties.
After all, how many of the industrial relics of the Gas Boom-era survive? The industrial work of the city ebbs and flows, and the river of commerce leaves behind rust and rubble.
Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight, however, lives in the middle of the old Silk Stocking district, an amalgam of older homes just west of downtown, where surviving Victorian mansions — some from the Gas Boom era — stand next to subdivided rental properties and homes which might have once had architectural integrity, but have succumbed to bad remodel jobs.
It’s a neighborhood that might have been something a great deal more than it is, if Kokomo had taken steps long ago to protect the historic features of the buildings.
That’s part of why Goodnight asked — and the Kokomo Common Council agreed — to set aside $300,000 this year to protect historic properties in Kokomo.
The amount itself isn’t enough to do much, but it could serve as a local match or as seed money for state and federal grants.
And Goodnight already has a few ideas of where the money could be used.
The old Douglas school at Bell and Elm streets, where Eleanor Roosevelt once visited, sits awaiting renovation. The Central Railroad depot on Buckeye Street downtown is still in use by the railroad, but local officials have eyed the property for years as a possible redevelopment opportunity.
There is the old Kokomo-Center Schools administration building, and there is the newly acquired old ice house building on South Main Street, next to the Wildcat Creek.
The city also has a $600,000 brownfields redevelopment grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which can be used to develop cleanup plans for old industrial sites.
Button Motors, the OmniSource scrap yard, the former Southside Lumber yard next to Wildcat Creek, the Northern Indiana Supply Co. building on South Main Street and property formerly owned by Delphi Corp. on Home Avenue were all listed as potential redevelopment sites on the city’s application for the EPA grant.
“We don’t have any projects per se, but I think it’s important for our community,” Goodnight said. “I think if we have an opportunity to save some old structures, we should.”
Goodnight has already stepped in to preserve at least one old structure downtown, when the city declined to issue a demolition permit for the former Firestone Building at Mulberry and Union streets.
And he’s seen preservation efforts pay off in the past, particularly a couple blocks from his house, where the Seiberling Mansion and Elliott House are home to the Howard County Historical Museum and the offices of the Howard County Historical Society.
“The Elliott House and the Seiberling Mansion were in decay three or four decades ago, and a group of people stepped up and made sure that didn’t happen,” Goodnight said.
The city has been in discussions with the owners of the downtown train depot, but the building is still in use by the railroad. The administration right now is content to wait and see what projects will be possible.
In keeping with the city’s debt-free status, Goodnight said he would like to pay for historic preservation projects in cash.
“We’ve done a good job of paying cash for two fire stations, but we also needed to put some money aside for capital projects,” he added.
The Kokomo Common Council would have to vote to appropriate any of the historic preservation fund, and there are no plans to spend any of the money right now.
But looking at the broken windows at the old school administration building, and other old buildings around town, it seems there will be plenty of opportunities for historic preservation in the months and years to come.