CAPE MAY - Last weekend's snowstorm still may be a disaster for the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities, the historic-preservation organization credited with saving this Victorian-era jewel of a resort.
The weather forced the center to postpone the Cape May Christmas Candlelight House Tour, its largest fund-raising event of the year, which was to have been held Saturday.
The 1,500 advance tickets sold will be honored when the event is held tomorrow night between 5:30 and 8:30.
Without a good showing - or if ticketholders seek refunds - the future of the center could be in jeopardy, according to executives of the nonprofit group widely known as MAC.
"We may have to fold," said Margo Harvey, a MAC spokeswoman.
The group hopes to sell at least 4,500 tour admissions to offset state funding cuts and the unexpected freezing of a previously allocated state grant this month. The freeze - at the request of Gov.-elect Christopher J. Christie, whose transition team is reviewing New Jersey's finances - hit all groups that receive money from the State Council on the Arts and has left MAC scrambling to pay operating expenses, Harvey said.
Predictions of blizzard conditions last weekend appear to have contributed to meager advance sales for the self-guided tour of Victorian houses, inns, hotels, and churches decorated for the season. The annual event also has costumed carolers and musicians, hospitality centers with hot beverages and baked goods, and a heated trolley shuttle between sites.
State funding is down 55 percent compared with last year, Harvey said. The cuts and potentially lower tour revenue have left him wondering how MAC can make it through the winter, said Michael Zuckerman, executive director of the nearly 40-year-old center.
MAC was formed to save the Emlen Physick Estate from demolition. The 1879 Cape May house and grounds have been meticulously restored and are among the town's prime tourist attractions. So, too, are the Cape May Lighthouse and numerous other buildings the group has helped preserve and restore.
The center has been credited with engineering one of the most prodigious historic-preservation efforts in the nation. But this year has been especially challenging for the group, "as it has for everyone else," Zuckerman said.
"We've been struck with three major whammies: the cuts in state funding, the effect of the economy, and the weather," he said.
The weather - a rainy summer tourist season and Saturday's snow - severely influenced the agency's efforts to raise money toward its $4.3 million annual operating budget, Harvey said.
An estimated 300,000 people tour the Physick Estate and other attractions annually. The number of visitors has not necessarily declined this year, Harvey said, but the visitors are spending less.
As of Nov. 30, income from the center's various tours and sales in its gift shop and tearoom was down 12.3 percent over the same period last year, Zuckerman said.
The center's fate could affect tourism in Cape May, where visitors throng year-round for an experience unlike any other on the Shore. Within the tiny town, visitors can walk streets lined with meticulously restored houses, inns, and hotels from the late 19th century and early 20th century that reflect the genteel history of one of the nation's first seashore resorts.
Cape May's architectural assets were threatened in the 1970s, when town fathers sought to modernize the resort and make it more like Atlantic City and Wildwood. The center rose up out of a grassroots effort that sought grants and other private money to protect the Victorian treasures and launched the town's preservation wave.
To survive tough times, "the mantra has become 'doing more with less,' " Harvey said. MAC now has 23 full-time employees - down from about 50 in 2000 - and relies "more and more on our volunteers all the time," she said.