Urbana Historic District added to National Register of Historic Places
September 18, 2019
Based on a recommendation from the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council, the Downtown Urbana Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places on Aug. 30.
The Downtown Urbana Historic District encompasses buildings and businesses within Illinois, Walnut, Water, Goose Alley and Cedar streets.
Dan Maloney, owner and CEO of DETech, began renovating the Nat Cohen Building, a double-story business block built in 1907, into a Japanese restaurant. The building has served as a cigar factory, bank and barber shop throughout its history.
“I’ve been renovating the building for the last couple of years, and I reached out to see if I could get it on the historic register,” Maloney said. “A representative reviewed the building, and it didn’t quite meet the criteria to meet the registry on its own, but we then started talking about cutting out a district and group of buildings that can be considered historic.”
Alice Novak, professor in FAA, and student researchers in her Urban and Regional Planning 420: Planning for Historic Preservation class helped Maloney and other Urbana officials fill out applications for the national register. They also helped designate what areas should be preserved as historic.
“I have my students do a real project every year, and this year I wanted to do something a little different,” Novak said. “We worked with the historic preservation staff of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and there were some city planners, as well as myself, that walked the potential boundaries and helped make some decisions on what would be included.”
Due to Urbana serving as a county seat, opera houses, hotels, banks, bakeries and saloons have developed around its downtown area.
“This designation will bring attention to the district from people wanting to visit historic areas, especially those with interests in the Midwest, prairie states, architecture buffs and Abe Lincoln enthusiasts,” said Marcus Ricci, an urban community development planner in Urbana, in an email.
The new listing places no obligations on private property owners but does make properties eligible for various financial incentives.
“There are nice perks like district tax credits and benefits for building in the district, which increases investor interest and encourages renovation and improvements in the district,” Maloney said.
Novak said what started out as a single project and request to officials by Maloney is allowing for renewed interest in the district’s preservation of its historic buildings as well as a financial investment.
“In addition to the direct benefit to building owners, new or increased business will lead to increased tax revenues for the city to reinvest in Urbana,” Ricci said.
Novak said she hopes the project leads students to explore Urbana as well as the opportunities they have to impact their communities.
“I hope there’s a greater awareness of what’s in Urbana, and I think it’s great that we were able to complete this project with student research,” Novak said. “I don’t know that Urbana would have spent the money to hire a consultant to do what the students did. So, students should understand they have great opportunities to make their communities better places and get things done.”