Hoosier Uplands Economic Development Corporation has stopped signing new contracts for renovations of the Paoli town square after a grassroots group called Saving Historic Orange County pointed out the corporation did not have the correct paperwork.
The Paoli town square is a registered historic district, and any project using state funds in a historic area must have a certificate of approval from the state Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology.
“All we’ve ever asked for is that the program be legal,” says Terry Cornwell, a Saving Historic Orange County member and member of the committee in charge of the renovations. “Before you ever start on a building, you have to get the Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology’s approval on what you’re going to do and they would never agree to some of the things that have gone on here on the square.”
The economic development corporation is restoring the facades of several buildings in hopes of making the square more attractive to tourists, but Cornwell says the square’s historic look is not being preserved.
“Some of the projects are great projects, as far as the restoration. Some of the projects, from a preservation standpoint are not. Some of the buildings, the original material is being replaced with material that never existed here on the square,” Cornwell says.
If the renovations are not approved, the town square could lose its historic designation. That means business owners would lose a state tax credit for operating in a historic district.
Andy Mahler, a founding member of the Lost River Market and Deli just off the town square, says he wants the square to be improved but is wary of the historical division enforcing requirements that would cost the county too much money.
“I think it’s important that we restore and renovate the downtown, but I think we can do it in ways that are consistent and historically accurate without significantly, or maybe even at all increasing the price of those projects,” says Mahler says.
Stakeholders plan to meet later this week to discuss whether the project can continue to move forward.