Past could be a future draw for Sandpoint

SANDPOINT — In the future, it may be the past that brings tourists to downtown Sandpoint.

While almost 30 years since it was first proposed, city officials finally accepted the National Park Service’s designation of downtown Sandpoint as a historic district. Council members hope the new status will appeal to history buffs and attract a new breed of tourist into a Sandpoint vacation. The designation will also allow Idaho Transportation Department to furnish a sign indicating the region as a historic district.

“(A historic district sign) was something recommended by SERA Architects as something that would draw travelers into downtown,” Public Works Director Kody Van Dyk said.

According to the National Park Service, the historic district encompasses a general area centered around First and Second avenues and Main and Cedar streets. However, those parameters are fairly flexible.

“It’s not a tight designation,” Van Dyk said.

The National Park Service published the region’s status as a historic district all the way back in 1984. However, neither the city council at the time nor any subsequent city councils took any action acknowledging the new status. That came back to bite the city when Van Dyk asked Idaho Transportation Department officials about the possibility of a sign. They replied that they couldn’t do anything until the city officially accepted the historic designation.

According to National Park Service historic district website, there’s really no downside to the designation. Property owners still retain all current their rights to modify, expand or demolish any real estate improvements as they see fit. Aside from the pride of having an officially recognized piece of history in town, building owners within the district can also potentially apply for tax credits by rehabilitating properties listed in the registry. However, if that doesn’t fit into the specific plans owners might have for their property, it isn’t obligated.

The mere presence of a historic presence in town can be a draw for some people, leading to business opportunities for downtown merchants. In October, several academics, preservation professionals and history enthusiasts attending National Historic Trust for Preservation conference in Spokane visited Sandpoint to get a taste of its past. They visited Community Hall, the Sandpoint Depot and the Panida Theater during their morning tour, taking a break in the afternoon to shop and grab some lunch.

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