It's past time for Victoria to preserve past

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Feb. 3, 2018 at 4:42 p.m.
Updated Feb. 4, 2018 at 6:01 a.m.

Victoria is one of the most historic cities in state and has a rich past.

Yet, the city does little to preserve and promote its history. Certainly, individuals and organizations like Victoria Preservation Inc. do all they can to raise awareness about a city that predates the formation of the Republic of Texas.

But the city has no formal historic district in place to protect and enhance downtown. This probably comes as a surprise to many Victorians, who have seen the plaques and assume the city's old homes and buildings have some protection.

However, Victoria has no formal relationship with the Texas Historical Commission and no local ordinance protecting historic structures. Some structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but that conveys no special protection to the properties. For that, the city must step in.

Victoria's Main Street program wants to do more and is arranging to have the local government preservation specialist come talk with local officials. The state agency encourages cities and counties to participate in the certified local government program. This is a formal way for a city or county to create a preservation commission.

More than 70 cities and counties across Texas have taken this important step. Most recently, historic Gonzales County joined the certified local government program.

The Texas Historical Commission lays out a few of the many compelling reasons for acting:

More than 10.5 percent of all travel in Texas is heritage-related. Just visit Fredericksburg or Gruene - cities that aren't as old as Victoria - to see what's possible.

Heritage tourism contributes about 12.5 percent, or $7.3 billion, of total visitor spending.

Every dollar from federal and state incentive programs triggers $4 to $5 of private-sector investment.

The bottom line is preservation fosters economic growth and development. Our rich history is what gives Victoria character and makes it stand out from every other city in America.

Victoria is long overdue to join the certified local government program, which provides training, technical assistance and grants. A required step for a city to participate is to form a historic commission with the authority to protect a city's historic character.

A county also may join the program, but it lacks the same authority as a city. This might be the most politically prudent first step for Victoria to take.

Victoria has a strong - and mostly wise - tradition of respecting the rights of private property owners. The common objection to a historic district is that they might infringe on this right and cause property values to decrease.

However, the reverse has been shown to be true time and time again. Property values climb within strong historic districts.

The city also can educate and survey property owners within a historic district such as downtown to gather strong backing before moving forward. Ideally, this would be a grassroots movement among downtown merchants and residents.

Victoria can be so much more if leaders of today will show an appreciation for the past and have the vision for a brighter tomorrow.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.


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