McPherson Main Street is embarking on a project to preserve downtown history and move toward making downtown a historic district.

McPherson Main Street is embarking on a project to preserve downtown history and move toward making downtown a historic district.

Main Street recently received a $3,490 grant from the Kansas Humanities Council to research 10 downtown buildings both architecturally and for business occupancy.

Ann Engel, Main Street executive director, said she hoped the study will encourage businesses to preserve historic buildings in the downtown and help downtown businesses qualifying for future grants and loans to make improvements.

The project will be completed by Aug. 1, and a display will be unveiled the first Thursday of August at the McPherson Public Library.

Engel said she hopes this historical research project will show businesses what their buildings could be.

"We have always been interested in the preservation of our historical buildings in relation to a business whenever its is feasible," Engel said. "This project will allow us to create interest in our history, generate a brochure and individual store display for visitors and locals, as well as hopefully create awareness of what lies beneath the metal."

The metal facades on many of the downtown buildings is what is keeping the McPherson downtown from receiving historic status. The facades were erected in the 1960s, but many of the downtown buildings were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The architectural significance of the buildings can't be established because of the facades.

On the up side, Engel said the facades that are in place have largely protected the brick and mortar of the businesses that have removed them, such as Brown's Shoe Fit, 118 N. Main St., and Atelier Design & Print, 120 N. Main St.

Main Street applied for a JOBS grant through the Federal Home Loan Bank in Topeka in hopes of receiving funds to remove the downtown buildings' metal facades. However, she said the grant was rejected because it was not specific enough.

Selling the metal removing project to downtown business owners can be difficult, Engel said.

"We can't tell them for sure that removing the metal will increase their business," she said. "It may cause people to come see it, but we can't directly tie it to business sales."

Designation as an historic district has its positives and negatives, Engel said.

Designation could mean local businesses could qualify for grant, loans and tax incentives to make improvements to their buildings. However, it also means tougher restrictions on what changes can be made.

Improvements in technology have made restoring historic buildings easier and more economical. Light weight molded products are available to replace finely carved ornamentation, Engel said.

Some downtown buildings already are subject to historic preservation rules without being able to benefit from the grants and tax incentives, Engel said. Any building within 600 square feet of the McPherson Opera House has to adhere to historic preservation standards, she said.

Weighing all the pluses and minuses and business owners wishes, Engel said the community would look very closely at the historic district designation before it applies.

Engel said she hopes the research on the historical buildings can be added to the arsenal the city uses to attract visitors. The city already has a stained glass tour available, and the McPherson Convention and Visitor's Bureau is considering putting together a walking tour of the community's murals.

Engel said she hopes visitors will get to see what she sees everyday.

"When I first moved here, I wasn't very interested in architecture. I didn't pay that much attention," Engel said. "Now everywhere I look I see these amazing buildings. I see the detail and I wonder what is hiding behind the metal."