Park Avenue just earned its spot in the history books.
The National Park Service announced on May 3 that the Downtown Winter Park Historic District, which runs along Park Avenue from Canton to Comstock avenues, is to be added to the National Register of Historic Places.
City officials and community leaders said the designation will not only bring a sense of place to the avenue, but will drive both local and national traffic to its brick streets. Winter Park was ranked 38th in the world by National Geographic Traveler magazine in 2009.
“The designation will do nothing but enhance the charm and character of the Park Avenue we all know and love,” Winter Park Mayor Ken Bradley said. “It will also create an interest and awareness for those who have not thought about visiting us.”
Winter Park Chamber of Commerce Vice President Debra Hendrickson agreed. “This is a win-win for businesses in Winter Park.” She said national publications promote historical places and such publicity would work to bring “feet to the street.”
The application process took about 18 months, but Winter Park has had its eye on the designation since 2001, Winter Park senior planner Lindsay Hayes said. The application was more like a book — about 70 pages of historical research plus photographs and maps.
Early settlement, architecture, community planning, commerce and transportation were among the contributing factors. The district boasts notable architects such as James Gamble Rogers II, Roy A. Benjamin and Nils M. Schweizer.
“The greatest benefit to us is it identifies the importance of our downtown,” Hayes said. “A lot of people say they love the downtown … but they don’t know why they like it so much. This identifies technically why everybody feels it’s so important.”
Susan Skolfield, executive director of the Winter Park Historical Association, said Winter Park’s citizens have a long track record of valuing the city’s history. Many of the association’s members wrote letters in support of the designation.
“We look back over time and realize that generations of citizens have valued the history and heritage of our beautiful town and it’s wonderful that downtown is now recognized as a national treasure,” Skolfield said.
The National Register designation doesn’t hold Park Avenue’s property owners to any new development regulations, Hayes said. “The power over growth and development remodeling all stays at the local level,” she said.
But property owners do have the opportunity to qualify for federal tax credits for renovations as long as they adhere to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards. She said one Park Avenue property owner has already qualified for a tax credit, which is equal to 10-20 percent of the cost of the project depending on the age of the building.
The tax credits will be a tool to maintain the area’s “old world charm,” Hendrickson said.
The Winter Park Historical Association Museum will have free admission from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the Fourth of July to celebrate the National Register designation. They will be serving complimentary old-fashioned lemonade. Also, Mayor Ken Bradley will lead a special ceremony at the Olde Fashioned 4th of July Celebration in Central Park.