ROCHESTER – After years of discussion, the Rochester City Council has decided to wait a little longer to decide whether to declare some of the city's oldest downtown commercial buildings are historic landmarks.

The council on Monday refused to take a proposal to form a downtown commercial historic district off its list of tabled items. If it had passed, building owners within the district — about 30 properties along a three-block stretch of Broadway Avenue S. — would have been eligible for financial preservation help but saddled with additional regulations on what they could do with their buildings.

"I don't think we're quite ready," Council President Brooke Carlson said.

Rochester residents have talked about preserving downtown buildings for decades, according to John Kruesel, who owns an antiques store in the proposed district. The city began studying the issue in 2014.

The council tabled the historic district proposal in September 2019 after city staff outlined concerns over Rochester's heritage preservation process and its goals, as well as potential incentives to encourage property owners to participate.

City staff updated the council last month, outlining other programs and incentives the city's historic preservation commission and staff developed over the past few years.

Molly Patterson-Lundgren, the city's historic preservation and urban design coordinator, said the property owners she's spoken with still have questions over how a district benefits them.

Owners are receptive to having a historic landmark — such designations can improve property values and help attract tourists — but are wary of additional city regulations.

"There's a bit of a disconnect still," Patterson-Lundgren said. "But certainly I've heard from more than a few that they love the idea."

Rochester historic preservation rules cover building exteriors. City officials don't regulate paint colors, for example, but certain signage may be off-limits if it obscures significant historic features.

"You look at the property and say what is it about this property that makes it historically significant? And then you work to protect that feature," Patterson-Lundgren said.

Council Member Patrick Keane said the proposal is a "huge lift" for the city to take on as it affects a large amount of downtown real estate.

While Carlson hopes to see the city create a robust financial incentives package, Keane said he'd vote it down, arguing the city can't provide enough incentives to encourage some owners to cede control over aspects of their property.

Kruesel said he agrees the city needs to create better incentives for business owners.

"The only incentives that have been offered require a business or landlord to take on debt," he said. "You have to remove that debt."