Design manual focused on enhancing downtown

Seymour Main Street continues to develop guidelines for property owners who are considering or planning to make changes or improvements to their downtown buildings.

Those design guidelines are not meant to dictate what people can and can’t do but are to provide helpful information that can increase property values, attract new businesses and make a positive visual impact on the downtown, said Tom Goecker, president of Seymour Main Street and a member of the Downtown Review Board.

“This is to give our downtown building owners or people who own businesses downtown some guidelines on the proper way to fix up these buildings,” he said.

Goecker, owner of Goecker Construction in Seymour, has purchased and renovated several buildings downtown, including Rails Craft Brew and Eatery, Java Joint, Beautiful Chaos and Artistic Impressions.

Main Street’s goal is for the downtown to retain its historic nature and that buildings retain the architectural features and look of the time period when they were built, Goecker said.

“A lot of these buildings that were built at the turn of the century have a lot of beauty hidden underneath,” he said. “There’s people that want to find that beauty and bring it back.”

The document is available for the public to read and make comments and suggestions. Copies can be reviewed at Seymour City Hall and will be available soon online at seymourmainstreet.com.

Work on the design guidelines project began in earnest a year ago, Goecker said.

But the downtown has been evolving for decades and will continue to change, he added.

“It’s amazing to me when I look at the new colors and palettes we have now,” he said. “The colors have changed in 30 years, and I look for them, in the next 15 to 30 years, to migrate again.”

The guidelines are not a set of rules that building owners have to follow, Goecker said, but they will help when questions and situations come up.

“We don’t want to be so restrictive that you can’t do things, but we are just trying to get to a theme or a kind of unified downtown,” he said.

Main Street worked with Indiana Landmarks, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to save and protect architecturally unique, historically significant and communally cherished properties, to develop the guidelines.

“They’ve done these for other communities, and I was impressed with their research and the amount of information that they provided,” Goecker said.

Greg Sekula, director of Indiana Landmarks Southern Regional Office, said having such guidelines in place is vital to preserving and protecting historic buildings.

“It’s important to set the rules of the game, so to speak, in your historic district,” Sekula said. “But these are not only tools that are helpful for Main Street, your local preservation efforts but for the public, too.”

Often people who are embarking on a renovation project don’t know where to turn to answer questions or even know the right questions to ask contractors, Sekula added.

“The guidelines can serve as an opportunity to educate the owners and enable them to ask the right questions,” he said.

In 2011, Seymour established the downtown review board by ordinance to ensure orderly growth, protect property values, attract new residents, ensure the viability of downtown and enhance tourism.

Laura Renwick, Indiana Landmarks community preservation specialist, said the design guidelines will provide guidance to property owners and the review board in achieving those things.

“Those are big goals, but there have been studies and evidence across the country and across Indiana for years and years that having a historic district established really does help with each of those things,” she said. “So we are hopeful that those will be the case here in Seymour.”

The local historic district includes Chestnut Street, between Fourth and Bruce streets and Second Street from Ewing to Walnut. Any changes to the exteriors of any buildings in the district, new construction or demolitions have to be approved by the city’s planning and zoning department under the advisement of the downtown review board.

“These guidelines help to make expectations clear, so that if you’re planning a project you can review the guidelines and have a pretty good understanding of whether or not what you want to do is going to fit within those guidelines and be approved,” Renwick said. “It leaves things less open to interpretation.”

The design guidelines are based on the Department of the Interior standards, which are national standards for preservation used by the National Parks Service, she added.

“They are the holy grail for preservation,” Renwick said. “But we also looked at other communities’ guidelines for examples, including New Albany, Jeffersonville, Scottsburg and Madison, and tried to adapt them to specific circumstances, building types and situations here in Seymour. It’s a great opportunity to learn from their mistakes and more successful aspects.”

Renwick said the guidelines can and will be revised over time.

“It’s designed to be a living and evolving document,” she added.

Besides the guidelines, Seymour Main Street also has programs to help building owners financially in making improvements.

“Hopefully, we can become more beneficial to the landlords and tenants with these programs as we learn what the needs are for our downtown,” Goecker said.

On the Web

The document is available for the public to read and make comments and suggestions. Copies can be reviewed at Seymour City Hall and will be available soon online at seymourmainstreet.com.

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.