An observation by a Main Street Arkansas official about the appearance of the city's historic downtown led to a discussion Thursday about the Certificate of Appropriateness process for the El Dorado Historic District Commission.
Beth Brumley, executive director of Main Street El Dorado, told commissioners about an upcoming visit from MSA officials Austin Watts, exterior design consultant, and Mark Miller, small business consultant, and shared Watts's initial impression of downtown El Dorado upon his first visit to the city a few months ago.
"He said, 'Your downtown is pretty. Your downtown is clean, but it's dreary. It can use some color,'" Brumley said.
Certificates of Appropriateness are required from the EHDC for most exterior projects within the commercial historic district, per city Ordinance 1685, which established the district.
COAs must be approved before work commences on a project that requires a certificate.
The commercial historic district encompasses most of downtown El Dorado.
When considering a COA request, the EHDC follows a set of design guidelines and the city ordinance to help preserve the historical and architectural character and integrity of the district.
COAs are not required for the city's two residential historic districts -- Mahony and Murphy Hill --, which are considered honorific and are not bound by the city ordinance.
Some projects within the residential historic districts could be eligible for state and federal tax credits and property owners may reach out to the EHDC for assistance on such matters.
On Thursday, Elizbeth Eggleston, executive director of the EHDC, pointed out that the aesthetic of the commercial historic district and any work that is proposed for a COA must fit within the historical period of significance for the district.
The district was largely constructed in the 1920s during the city's oil boom and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
Architectural styles that are represented in the district include Classical Revival, Venetian Gothic and Art Deco.
The design guidelines are based on the U.S. Secretary of the Interior's standards for the treatment, preservation, rehabilitation, restoration and reconstruction of historic properties.
Brumley said MSA also follows the U.S. Secretary of Interior's standards when providing technical assistance for Main Street programs.
Referring to Watts's comments about downtown El Dorado, Brumley told the EHDC, "He said everything is pretty much all one color and he said we could use a little red downtown and he sent down the 'correct' (shades) of red as suggestions."
Watts and Miller are expected in town on Feb. 21 to provide technical assistance to MSE and downtown property and business owners, Brumley said.
She noted that the pair was originally scheduled to come to El Dorado last week but the trip was canceled because of inclement weather.
Eggleston noted that the EHDC appoints a monthly "COA and training" commissioner to work with a property owner who is considering a COA request.
The designated commissioners sit down with the property owner to hammer out the details before the request is submitted to the EHDC.
"We want to go ahead and work out the details ahead of time so when they present a COA, it's 'approvable' the first time," said Eggleston.
Brumley said MSE is also considering re-working its mini-grant program in 2024.
Each year, MSE offers mini-grants to help business and property owners within the Main Street footprint spruce up their properties.
Mini-grants are funded through a Downtown Revitalization Grant (DTRG) that is awarded annually to local Main Street and Arkansas Downtown Network programs, via the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program (AHPP), an arm of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism (ADPHT).
Mini-grants may be used for interior and exterior projects, including painting, lighting, flooring, window treatments, awnings, etc.
In 2022, MSE awarded a total of $15,000 in mini-grants for Purely Creative, Off the Rail Cafe, Marilyn's on the Square, the building at 215 - 217 E. Main, which formerly housed Pat's Glass and Collectibles and others.
Mini-grant recipients have until next month to complete projects and submit paperwork for reimbursement.
Brumley said Thursday that MSE may select improvement projects to fund, rather than waiting on property owners to submit applications for mini-grants in 2024.
"We'll make the decision for you to replace an awning because some of them are looking pretty bad down there," she said.
The EHDC will next meet at noon on March 9 in the Council Chamber of City Hall.
COAs must be submitted by Feb. 17 for the commission's March meeting.
For more information, call Eggleston at 870-315-2308.