National Trust urges Congress to support historic preservation efforts during coronavirus crisis

Preservation Push

National Trust urges Congress to support historic preservation efforts during coronavirus crisis

Located just north of New York City, Lyndhurst is just one of thousands of historic sites in need of federal help. The mansion can also be toured virtually this month as part of Virtual Preservation Month. (MFer Photograph/Flickr)

On April 30, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and five partnering organizations sent a letter to leaders in the United States Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives urging them to consider specific program funding in any future coronavirus-related federal stimulus packages. The intent is to help to “catalyze the economic recovery of nonprofit organizations, small businesses, and the arts and culture sector, while also protecting historic and cultural resources” during and in the wake of the pandemic.

Submitted to Congress by the National Trust alongside Main Street America, the National Trust Community Investment Corporation, the Coalition for American Heritage, the National Preservation Partners Network, and Preservation Action and endorsed by over 375  historic preservation organizations and businesses, the letter is quick to extend gratitude toward lawmakers for provisions within March’s $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package, the CARES Act, that have aided nonprofit organizations working within the arts and humanities sector. That includes the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a universal above-the-line deduction for charitable contributions,  and emergency funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute for Museum and Library Services.

However, the National Trust stresses that much more help will be needed moving forward as “nonprofit organizations continue to operate in a state of economic crisis due to the loss of revenue from closures, event cancellations, and a decline of charitable contributions.”

In addition to an extension of the PPP, the letter calls for the following provisions: An enhancement of the federal historic tax credit; supplemental funding of $420 million for the Historic Preservation Fund, including additional funding for state and tribal preservation offices, as well as a “significant investment in rehabilitation and related historic resource programs through existing competitive grant programs;” the enactment of the Great American Outdoors Act (S. 3422), which would provide $9.5 billion in funding over a five-year span for deferred repair needs within the National Park Service and other agencies; additional enhancements of the charitable giving incentives included in the CARES Act; additional funding to the arts and humanities agencies that received aid as part of the CARES Act, and lastly, “urging opposition to legislative exemptions from provisions in the National Historic Preservation Act, including Section 106, or the National Environmental Policy Act.”

The above provisions were borne from a comprehensive engagement effort initiated by the National Trust to “develop a list of legislative priorities vital to sustaining the broad preservation sector comprised of local, state and national organizations, Main Street communities, historic sites, and more,” as explained by Pam Bowman, director of public lands policy with the National Trust. “We conducted outreach to partners and allies across the country to learn the immediate needs required to protect the nation’s historic and cultural resources at this unprecedented time.”

The National Trust is also imploring those within the preservation community to keep their local officials’ collective feet to the fire during a time when “the outlook for legislative activity in Congress remains fluid and uncertain.”

Per statistics calculated by the American Alliance of Museums and shared by the Preservation Leadership Forum, museums, including historic cultural sites, are losing roughly $33 million per day due to coronavirus-related closures. This endangered sector supports 726,000 annual jobs and contributes $50 billion to the economy each year.

On March 13, the National Trust announced its national staff would transition to remote working, and that tours and programming would be suspended at all nine stewardship sites that it owns and operates: the Glass House, the Farnsworth House, Lyndhurst, Villa Finale, the Woodrow Wilson House, the Gaylord Building, Shadows-on-the-Teche, Chesterwood, and Woodlawn Plantation/the Pope Leighey House. At the time, co-stewardship and contracted affiliate-operated historic sites had been left to decide whether or not to continue operating based on local safety restrictions and other factors, although all 27 historic sites in the National Trust’s portfolio are now listed as being closed to visitors.

In the meantime, visitors can remotely visit a slew of historic sites across the country, some rarely open to the public, as part of the National Trust’s inaugural Virtual Preservation Month. Kicking off with a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pope-Leighey House in Virginia, a new virtual experience at a different National Trust Historic Site, designated National Treasure, or participating site with the Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios program will be unveiled each day throughout the month of May.