Topic ID #9365 - posted 1/21/2011 1:27 PM

Feds Threaten Major Cuts to Historic Preservation Grants



Feds Threaten Major Cuts to Historic Preservation Grants

Posted By Ryan Holeywell | January 14, 2011

President Obama and the GOP don't tend to agree on much these days. But they've found common ground in one unusual place: Both want to cut millions of dollars in historic preservation grants.

This week, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), a GOP deputy whip and member of the Republican Study Committee's steering committee, introduced a bill that would cut $150 billion over five years through nearly 50 types of spending reductions across the board.

Some of the cuts are politically charged, like rescinding voluntary payments to the United Nations and eliminating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Others are common-sense proposals taken from the president's fiscal commission, such as requiring the sale of excess federal property and reducing federal travel costs.

A little-noticed proposal was a plan to eliminate two programs that fund historic preservation grants: Save America's Treasures and Preserve America.

According to a House-issued breakdown of Brady’s proposal:

This amendment would eliminate funding for the Save America's Treasures and Preserve America Program, as called for by the President who said both programs are duplicative and underperforming.

The Preserve America Grant Program was established in 2003 (as) a grant program within (the Department of the Interior) to provide ‘planning funding to support preservation efforts through heritage tourism, education, and historic preservation planning.’

The Save America's Treasures Program in Department of Interior awards grants to preserve historically significant properties. This account is also heavily earmarked. $4.6 million is appropriated for Preserve in FY 2010 and $25 million is appropriated for Save. The Department of the Interior oversees multiple, overlapping historic preservation programs. Additionally, every federal agency is required to maintain a historic preservation program and must appoint a historic preservation officer and comply with the National Historic Preservation Act. In addition, there are numerous other federal grant programs and tax provisions aimed at historic preservation.

But Patrick J. Lally, director of congressional affairs for The National Trust for Historic Preservation, said Brady is downplaying the grants’ significance. Save America’s Treasures is the only federal grant dedicated exclusively to physical restoration of nationally significant sites, and it represents a significant portion of all federal funding for historic preservation.

The historic preservation fund, which is part of the Department of Interior, is usually funded at about $75 million to $78 million, and Save America’s Treasures usually makes up about $25 million to $30 million of that total. Eliminating it would be a huge blow to federal preservation efforts, Lally tells FedWatch. “It’s not like when lawmakers propose elimination of these funds they go to another account within the historic preservation fund,” Lally says. “They go away.”

Save America’s Treasures has provided funding to restore the Montgomery bus where Rosa Parks made her stand, the workshop where Thomas Edison created his inventions and the cottage to which President Lincoln retreated during hot Washington summers, among other projects. Since its 1998 launch, it has provided nearly $294 million to more than 1,100 preservation projects.

While Save America’s Treasures focuses on physical work, Preserve America grants provide funding for things like marketing, research and digitizing records — ancillary work that helps to promote “heritage tourism” to cultural and natural sites. For example, Honolulu was awarded $150,000 to develop programs to showcase its Chinatown, and Oxford, Miss. received $75,000 to fund exhibits about the life of Supreme Court Justice L.Q.C. Lamar in his historic home. Preserve America has provided more than $17 million in grants to more than 225 projects.

This time, the programs are being targeted by a House Republican. But a year ago, it was President Obama who proposed cutting the programs in his 2010-2011 budget. White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer wrote on the White House blog that they “lack rigorous performance metrics and evaluation efforts so the benefits are unclear.”

That decision was especially unusual, given that the White House has previously been a supporter of the programs. In March 2009, Obama signed legislation that permanently authorized them, and in December of that year, First Lady Michelle Obama touted Save America’s Treasures as a way to “empower communities all over the country to rescue and restore this priceless heritage.”

Lally says he believes Obama’s proposal to cut the programs last year was an oversight. Congress ultimately preserved funding for the programs, largely due to the fact that Save America’s Treasures has a record of creating jobs (16,000 since its inception), Lally says. The White House’s budget will be released next month, and preservations are anxiously waiting to see whether it will against target the two programs, like Brady has already done. And given that deficit reduction has been the theme repeated ad nauseum by the new House Republican leadership, the future of the programs could be in jeopardy.

The fact that the two programs are fighting for their survival is especially ironic, considering the $29.6 allotted to them is a pittance of the overall federal budget. Nancy Schamu, executive director of the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, tells FedWatch she doesn’t know why preservation funding is being targeted, especially since it’s basically “decimal dust” in the grand scheme of things.

“That’s something you’ll have to ask the bill drafters,” she says.

Post ID#18461 - replied 1/23/2011 7:58 PM


As an architectural historian, I am all for preservation....but at taxpayer's, and not right now.  Nothing gives me greater pleasure than when the building owner pours himself into preservation.  I think this is a wise choice...backburner these types of funding projects for awhile and focus on what is important.  And, I might add that a whopping 16K job for SAT is not exactly anything to crow about (yikes)....I am sure if I sat down and added up the dollars spend since its inception and the jobs created I would fall over.  

There are plenty of other spending cuts to be made for sure, but certainly preservation should be at the top-it is not essential to the health and welfare of the nation..not right now.

Post ID#18462 - replied 1/24/2011 7:04 AM


A few things to keep in mind about SAT (and other grants) -

First - I believe the properties do have to have made it to the NRHP as "nationally Signfiicant".  It is important to keep in mind though that what makes a structure nationally significant is not always its architectural beauty - after all archeological sites can get SAT money as well - There are four NR criteria to be considered and a property can be natioanlly significant under any of them,  they are:
  • A. That are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or
  • B. That are associated with the lives of significant persons in or past; or
  • C. That embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or
  • D. That have yielded or may be likely to yield, information important in history or prehistory.

you can find the full details on how apply the criteria at .

The "national" significance (as opposed to State or Local - which are also categories for NRHP properties)  is determined based on the Historic Context.  I am currently working with a property that is clearly of National significance (one of the earliest foundrys and weapon producing plants in the US, developed new type of armaments for Civil War, etc.) which was originally listed on the NR as locally significant.  We had to work through updating the nomination to correctly identify it as Nationally signficant before it could even be considered for SAT money.

Second - When looking at the money spent it is important to keep in mind that the money has multiplier benefits beyond $$ to the owner.  Since all SAT money is matching - whatever is granted is at least doubled by other contributions - so the value of SAT money is at least twice what is granted.  And those funds create a whole series of jobs - at the first level - the workers doing the rehab; at the second level - the suppliers of the material (CRM jobs can be seen at one of these two levels);  at a third level - the structure is often able to add more to a community after the work - not only because it looks better - but it can be useful in bringing up surrounding property values, re-establishing neighborhoods, (if a commercial use) creating jobs within the funded structure long after the fact, etc.  SAT (and other programs) was designed to stimulate investment in communities.

Third - when SAT projects (and others) are successful, they illustrate to the area the value of investing private money in preservation projects.  Often they serve as a catalyst for others to preserve rather than tear down and build new.

Leaving SAT aside - below is piece from a note I recieved about the broader list of proprosed cuts.  As you can see other programs slated for cuts are PBS, NEH, NEA, CD - all of which will affect the archaeological job market in some way.  Those which I have highlighted in red a programs that often create CRM related jobs.  IF you think the job market is bad now - just wait and see what happens if these cuts are all made.

On Thursday, Republican Study Committee members Reps Jim Jordon (R-OH) and Scott Garrett (R-NJ) introduced the Spending Reduction Act of2011. This legislation was designed to create a total savings of $2.29 trillion over ten years. It would do so by formalizing the reduced budget cap for FY11 as well as hold discretionary spending from FY12 through FY21 at FY06 amounts. The proposal would also eliminate 100 programs including:.

  • Corporation for Public Broadcasting Subsidy. $445 million annual savings
  • Save America's Treasures Program. $25 million annual savings.
  • National Endowment for the Arts. $167.5 million annual savings.
  • National Endowment for the Humanities. $167.5 million annual savings.
  • Hope VI Program. $250 million annual savings.
  • Community Development Fund. $4.5 billion annual savings.
  • Heritage Area Grants and Statutory Aid. $24 million annual savings.
  • Cut Federal Travel Budget in Half. $7.5 billion annual savings.
  • Department of Energy Grants to States for Weatherization. $530 million annual savings.
  • Economic Development Administration. $293 million annual savings.
  • Programs under the National and Community Services Act. $1.15 billion annual savings.
  • Energy Star Program. $52 million annual savings.

Post ID#18464 - replied 1/24/2011 12:53 PM


Thanks DM for writing all that down (so I dont have to, lol).

As for issuing grants at taxpayer's expense; how are grant monies spent on employing various historians, archaeologists, carpenters, plumbers, architects, etc. any different than taxpayer grants given to other scientific fields, the FHWA, private enterprises, etc.? All result similarly; people are employed and generally the public benefits from the expense. (That does not mean there is not cronyism, favoritism, graft, etc. in any of these programs, but throwing babies out with bath waters doesn't solve otherwise fixable problems). Deleting "decimal dust" really isnt going to solve what is essentially a political, and not economic, problem facing the US.

Post ID#18471 - replied 1/26/2011 12:51 PM

SHPO Grunt

Just a couple of thoughts.  As Dmack notes, there are 4 criteria of eligibility.  In regards to the L.Q.C. Lamar home, it has been determined eligible (and listed as a National Historic Landmark) under criterion "b", for its association with L.Q.C. Lamar.  It's architecture does not contribute to its eligibility.

Also interesting is that the Save Americas Treasures program was  founded by Executive Order by President Clinton, I believe in 1998.  Preserve America, was founded by Executive Order by President Bush in 2003.  During the Bush Administration, funding was taken away for SAT in order to fund PA.  It's just the way legacy building works sometimes.

In my opinion, they are both good programs that provide way more bang for the buck than they actually cost.

Post ID#18475 - replied 1/28/2011 7:36 AM

SHPO Grunt

Just to throw in another $.02.  The main webpage for the LQC Lamar House describes it as a " modest Greek Revival house".  Qualifying adjectives are important.

Second, the photo you provided from the 1930's is one of an un-restored house with many modifications.  It is not representative of the property during it's period of significance.  The fully restored property does a better job of this:

Additionally, of the costs you noted (over $2Mil?  I can't find a summary that goes beynd about $1.25Mil, but I'll take your word for it.). $425K was appropriated by the Mississippi legislature and was the purchase price.  That's a big chunk of the expence right there. Here is a quick summary the history of restoration (source:

Major work on the restoration concluded June 2008. Restoration highlights are:

1. Cleared nearly three-acre lot of privet, underbrush, invasive vines.

2. Developed parking lot at N.16th St. boundary.

3. Created pathway from parking lot to house on N. 14th St.

4. Replaced house foundation.

5. Removed modern rear addition.

6. Rebuilt original rear dining room.

7. Replaced front porch with original design.

8. Restored all windows and doors.

9. Replaced roof and restored chimneys.

10. Restored lap siding and painted original color.

11. Reinstalled missing portion of original brick walkway from street to porch.

12. Replaced plaster in four rooms off central hall.

13. Consolidated old plaster and restored hand-painted designs in hall.

14. Repaired all fireplace hearths and restored mantels.

15. Replaced rotted floor in southwest corner room.

16. Refinished original floors.

17. Repainted with original colors or repapered with reproduction stock.

18. Insulated and installed HVAC system.

19. Built disabled entry to house.

20. Built a new outbuilding in probable location of original kitchen to house

restrooms and catering kitchen

Quite frankly, I think it is money well spent.  And really, having spent a lot of time helping develop mitigation, and working with budgets, that amount of money just doesn't go as far as it seems it should.  Particularly when you get into foundation/structural work.  (Not to mention that you can blow through $100k on interpretation in nothing flat.)

It is amazing how fast an older home can eat through the bank account.  I know, as I own one.  In budgeting my own home repair/restoration projects my rule of thumb is to precisely figure out the cost for parts/materials and the amount of time it will take to get it done.  Then double the cost and triple the time.

Post ID#18476 - replied 1/28/2011 10:18 AM


SHPO Grunt,

How many people have been and are employed on that project?

Post ID#18482 - replied 1/30/2011 9:48 AM

SHPO Grunt

Hi FireArch, unfortunately, I don't know how many people are, or have been employed on that project.  Sorry.

And StarRider, the article mentions that the home is available for various functions and is a popular spot for weddings.  Hence the need for a catering kitchen.  Good idea actually, as the user fees will help offset the cost of running the facility. 

And I have a question for you.  How much should this project have cost?

Post ID#18485 - replied 1/31/2011 3:17 PM


$1.25 million seems pretty reasonable to me, especially if that included the purchase price.  Restoring a historic property to a specific time period is a lot more complicated than "This Old House" or running down to Home Depot for supplies.  You would need to employ a preservationist, probably a historic architect, and contractors that know how to work with certain materials and apply in them in specific ways.  Not to mention just finding out what kind of materials were used on that house (not just period materials) and keeping with the intent of the original architect.  It may seem like a high price, but I don't think it is unreasonable, especially when you consider the value it can bring to a community.  I don't know anything about that house specifically, but historic buildings that are restored do a lot to attract business to towns.  Maybe something like this is lost in a larger town that has several historic properties, but in smaller towns where restoring a train depot, or courthouse, or jail, or historic home can go a long way.

Historic preservation, and even environmental conservation, may seem like the easy cut these days, but these things aren't getting any better.  If we ignore them they will get to the point of not being salvageable and thus lost forever.  I was thinking about polar bears the other day and how up in arms everyone is over the shrinking habitat for these bears.  Do we really need polar bears?  If anything they are a danger to humans and their absence should be welcome.  But, we want to preserve them nonetheless.  My point is, we don't NEED any of this stuff, but it would surely be a dull place without them.  I certainly hope the bears make it, just like the historic properties.

Post ID#18492 - replied 2/1/2011 6:43 AM


StarRider - 

  Your notes prompted me to take a few moments to look into the details - for starters the Lamar home is not just any house - it has been and NHL (the highest status a structure can attain in the US) since May 1975!  According to the statement of Significance - it is listed for a lot more than being a Greek Revivial -

From about 1868 to 1888, this was the home of Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar (1825-1893), Mississippi statesman. In 1861, Lamar resigned his seat in Congress and drafted a Mississippi Secession Ordinance. During the war, he served the Confederacy as a soldier and diplomat; afterward, he was a leading Southern spokesman for reconciliation during Reconstruction. Exponent of Southern industrial progress and leader of the “New South” movement, late in his career Lamar served in the U.S.Senate, as Secretary of the Interior, and on the Supreme Court.”

   Clearly this is a building with a lot of historical connection for the local and state level (heck he was one of the founders of the Confederacy) .

Actually, givne the NHL status, the long range plans for the building, its connection to an important figure in local/state/regional/national history and the fact that it had fallen inot such rough shape - funding its rehab sounds like a win for everyone -  especially if you look at it in several lights - 
  Clearly this building is being used as a public/business space- not a residence - so it will be generating income in years to come and will be available for the entire community
  IN that role, not only did it employ folks during rehabilitation but will continue to for years to come in its museum role - as well as providing edcuational opportunities for generations to come
   Use as a banquet facility - will create even more employment - even if only on a temporary basis.

 Admittedly the price tag sounds high, but when you factor in everything involved - it is not surprising.

Post ID#18493 - replied 2/1/2011 7:21 AM

SHPO Grunt

<<You want a bid LOL? Far less than it did.>>

LOL no comment really necessary here, is there?


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