Forum Journal & Forum Focus

Introduction: Fall 2002 

12-09-2015 17:35

For this issue of the Forum Journal, we invited several governors to reflect on the role of historic preservation in their respective states. While all of them offer enthusiastic praise for preservation’s benefits, their varied reasons for doing so make for very inter-esting reading.

Both Maryland’s Governor Parris Glendening and Vermont’s Howard Dean emphasize the value of preservation as a “smart growth” tool to protect rural landscapes and promote economic revitalization in traditional downtowns. Governor Dean notes that the best way to limit development where is it not desired is to support and encourage development where it is wanted. In Maryland, after decades of subsidizing sprawl -- and the resulting abandonment of older cities and towns -- the state now targets assistance to “Priority Funding Areas” where development is desirable and designates tracts of rural land worthy of special protection.

Recognizing, as Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack notes, that livability is a critical factor in determining which com-munities thrive and which ones wither, many states work to reverse the trend of out-migration by developing programs to make it more attractive for people to live and work downtown. The Vermont Downtown Program is a good example of statewide efforts to encourage and support development in historic urban centers, while Governor Paul E. Patton’s Renaissance Kentucky program has had marked success in helping communities gain access to the financial and technical resources needed to revitalize downtowns.

State leaders also recognize the importance of heritage tourism as an economic engine. Visitors have long enjoyed Florida’s theme parks and sunny beaches, but in recent years the state has begun to highlight the appeal of its historic places as well. The result, according to Governor Jeb Bush, is that Florida’s historic sites -- ranging from the modest Spanish-era buildings of St. Augustine to the glitzy Art Deco District in Miami Beach — now bring in millions of dollars in revenue each year.

Preservation “Carrots”

The governors also discuss the role of their state governments in promoting preservation at the local level. As Kentucky Governor Patton writes, “Decision-making should be local. The state’s role should be to lead by example.” The essays make it clear that by offering preservation “carrots” such as financial incentives and technical assistance, state governments can provide an effective jump-start to grassroots preservation and revitalization efforts.

State tax credits for historic rehabilitation, for example, have been key in encouraging reinvestment in older buildings and neighborhoods and stimulating economic rebirth in many communities. The first 28 projects to make use of Iowa’s newly enacted Historic Preservation Tax Credit are expected to produce an increase in local property-tax revenues of more than $862,000. In Maryland, private investment in completed tax-credit rehab projects approached $135 million in 2001. Similar benefits are being felt in states as far-flung as Vermont and Missouri, where state tax-credit programs are spurring redevelopment and bringing a new shine to historic areas in big cities and small towns alike.

In addition to offering tax credits and other economic incentives, several states are making it easier and less costly to renovate older buildings by implementing new building codes that reduce regulatory barriers to rehabilitation. In Kentucky, to cite a single example, Governor Patton has recently signed an executive order mandating the development of a plan to promote the rehabilitation of aging buildings through the use of these so-called “smart codes.”

It is very gratifying to note the governors’ reports that Main Street programs are having an enormously beneficial impact in cities and towns from coast to coast. In Iowa, successful revitalization efforts in tiny Elkalder (population 1,465) earned a prestigious Great American Main Street Award this year. In Missouri, Main Street programs are aiding a string of towns along the newly opened Katy Trail State Park, while Vermont’s Downtown Program, at work in 14 communities, has recently expanded to serve rural villages.

Finally, some visionary governors have recognized that the location of state offices and other facilities can play a significant role in sustaining the vitality of existing communities. Governor Bob Holden of Missouri and Governor Frank O’Bannon of Indiana, for example, signed executive orders requiring that new state buildings and leased facilities be sited in downtown districts rather than on the sprawling suburban fringe.

The Intangible Benefits

While acknowledging that preservation is a powerful tool for economic growth and land-use planning, several governors also speak of the importance of protecting landmarks of local, state, and national history and what Kentucky Governor Patton calls the “cultural and rural landscapes that embody that history.” Governor Rick Perry of Texas has continued the efforts of his predecessors to help fund the restoration of the historic county courthouses that are important elements of the heritage of the Lone Star State. Thanks to effective partnerships among state and local government agencies and private preservation groups, this effort to save an entire class of endangered landmarks has gained widespread public recognition and support.

Several governors also touch on the importance of maintaining citizens’ quality of life and the need to preserve the distinctive places that give people “their sense of roots,” in the words of Governor Holden of Missouri. Governor Frank O’Bannon of Indiana describes how the state historic preservation office is collaborating with other state-level partners -- including the Indiana Freedom Trails Initiative and the Native American Council, among others -- to build appreciation for Indiana’s history of cultural diversity. It is all part of the long-term planning leading up to the state’s bicentennial celebration in 2016, and designed to build Hoosiers’ sense of ownership, stewardship, and pride in their communities.

“In recent years, many people have begun to understand how sprawl chips away at their quality of life…and they have become keenly aware of what we’re losing by allowing historic buildings and landmarks to languish and decay,” reflects Maryland Governor Glendening.

There was a time when few governors acknowledged historic preservation as an important source of economic and cultural vitality for the citizens of their states. Today the prevailing sentiment is summarized by Governor Vilsack of Iowa, who notes that historic places “define and contribute to the identity of communities in a way that only a unique heritage can.”

Publication Date: Fall 2002

#Landscapes #ForumJournal #MainStreet

Author(s):Richard Moe