What would it cost to preserve more of our history?

And what would it cost not to?

The City of Venice’s Historic Preservation Board (HPB) has been working for months to revise an ordinance that would help answer those questions.

The number of properties that could qualify for inclusion on Venice’s register of historic places might be over 200, with some dating back to the 1920s under the original John Nolen plan and others of more recent vintage — Sarasota School of Architecture houses, for example.

The actual number is unknown because the city hasn’t done a historic structures survey in more than 30 years, Historic Resources Manager Harry Klinkhamer told us.

Only six properties are on the local register now: the Lord-Higel House, the Triangle Inn, the Train Depot, the Johnson-Schoolcraft Building, the El Patio Hotel and 504 Armada, an apartment building.

Charlotte County has a number of structures that could potentially be registered as historic also. One is “Cedar Oaks”, a residence at the corner of Florida Street and La Villa Road. It was built by William Whitten who came to town in 1899 from South Bend, Indiana. He became a well known and successful businessman, served three terms as DeSoto county commissioner and on Charlotte County’s first BOCC.

In Venice there is a sense of urgency for the HPB to complete its work, as inclusion of a property on the list imposes conditions on renovation, restoration, improvement or demolition that make its survival more likely, though not guaranteed.

Which is probably a big reason so few property owners have sought to be listed in spite of a potential tax break and other benefits.

Why is it important? Well, those who don’t know history can’t learn it if it disappears. Wouldn’t it be nice if there had been some way to preserve the Circus Arena for all it meant to the city?

History is also a reason people go to Venice and spend money, whether as tourists, snowbirds or full-time residents. John Nolen was a renowned city planner whose work here is still being studied and appreciated.

And has anyone ever come here and not commented on Venice’s small-town charm? History is a big part of that.

So we support the HPB’s efforts to ensure more historic properties are preserved for future generations.

But we need to add a note of caution: The key is more carrots, not more sticks.

The ordinance as originally proposed would have allowed anyone to nominate a property without the owner’s consent and given the City Council the authority to approve it even over the owner’s objection.

Only after Venice City Attorney Kelly Fernandez told them they would get the city sued did all the members yield to the need to get the owner involved at the outset.

A better approach, we believe, would be to focus on maximizing the benefits of getting on the register and then conduct educational outreach targeted at those 200 or so property owners.

If the pluses of being on the list don’t outweigh the negatives, it will remain a tough sell to property owners.

And if they don’t know about the program in the first place, it’s an impossible one.

Put on a program about properties that have and haven’t been saved to try to build some enthusiasm in the target audience.

We could recommend the same, or equivalent, path for Charlotte and DeSoto counties. Charlotte has had no movement on designating a building historic for years that we know of.

Remember that if the old never made way for the new, we’d never have anything new. And everything was new at some point.


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