Could New Historic District Bring Back West Broad? 

City planners are proposing a new federal historic district on West Broad Street that could encourage the redevelopment of several well-known buildings, including the much-debated — and once-doomed — Putney Shoe Co. building.

The proposed district stretches along Broad Street from Allison Street to DMV Drive, and also includes parts of Hermitage Road and Marshall Street. It would be called the West Broad Street Commercial and Industrial Historic District.

It’s a historically significant area, the city says, because it’s where railroad and streetcar lines allowed businesses to thrive. The architecture “clearly tells the story of the development of Richmond’s industrial capacity” between 1902 and 1960, according to the nomination form submitted by the city to the National Register of Historic Places.

The district would include some buildings instantly familiar to Richmonders, including the C.F. Sauer building with its vanilla-dribbling chef, the Pleasants Hardware building and the Sears and Roebuck building.

The shoe company building at 2200 W. Broad St., with its dramatic arched facade, is one of the most “architecturally ambitious” in the district, city planners wrote. It’s owned by the state, which in 2009 cleared the building for demolition but now is offering it for sale.

The inclusion of old buildings on the register wouldn’t determine what owners can do with them. “There are no restrictions on the use, treatment, transfer, or disposition of private property,” the register’s website says.

Placing a building on the register, however, makes it easier for the building to qualify for historic tax credits, says David Herring, vice president of the Center for Neighborhood Revitalization of the Better Housing Coalition. Creation of a new historic district “would definitely spur interest from the development community,” he says, much as it did for Tobacco Row.

Last week, the city’s Commission of Architectural Review voted to move the historic district proposal along. The next step is for two state boards to consider it, which they’ll do June 16 at the Virginia Historical Society.

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