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Historic buildings in Utah damaged by earthquake could be saved

Mar 20, 2020, 8:55 PM
Historic buildings Utah FEMA earthquake...
A building on Magna's historic Main Street was one of many damaged in this week's earthquake. But the good news is it could be rebuilt. (Photo: Utah State History Facebook page)
(Photo: Utah State History Facebook page)

MAGNA– The view on Main Street in Magna is depressing for some, with many of its historic buildings damaged during this week’s earthquake. However, there’s a chance those structures will be saved.

Utah’s State Historic Preservation Officer Chris Merritt and his team surveyed many of the damaged buildings in Magna and Salt Lake City on Friday. He’s cautiously optimistic the buildings can be fixed.

Merritt said the people he spoke with are happy to hear that news.

“That crack, that structural failure is repairable. We always say, ‘Rehab before demo.’ We’re just trying to get that message out, but we needed the data,” Merritt said.

Merritt was inside the historic Rio Grande terminal in downtown Salt Lake City during Wednesday’s earthquake. Photos of the damage to the building were posted on social media, but he’s hopeful most of that damage is also cosmetic, not structural.

Merritt said many of the buildings that were damaged were like the Rio Grande: older, not reinforced, and at least two stories tall.

And the damage is mostly minor, like cracks or bricks missing from chimneys.

But even if part of the structure toppled over, it still might be salvageable.

“Nothing we’ve seen is saying that the building’s a loss. Everything just needs some help,” Merritt said.

Merritt says initial conversations with city leaders are also encouraging, as they signaled support for keeping the historic buildings.

He’s also reminding property owners to look into state and federal tax credits that could help them rebuild.

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