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Historic preservation helps economy

By Maia Farish Historic preservation is not just about old barns and churches and saving history for future generations. It really is about the economy.

Maia Farish
Maia FarishRead more

By Maia Farish

Historic preservation is not just about old barns and churches and saving history for future generations. It really is about the economy.

About a year ago, the New Jersey Historic Trust learned that sales-tax revenue would no longer be the source for funding the Garden State Historic Preservation Trust Fund Grants Program.

In July, legislators passed, and the governor signed, the bill that became Ballot Question 3, a stopgap measure to keep funding for historic-preservation and open-space programs alive for one more year. The ultimate goal was a dedicated source of funding - ideally from the Governor's Asset Monetization Plan.

But the unpopularity of that proposal, which was rejected by voters, has left the Garden State Historic Preservation Trust Fund truly on shaky ground.

It is critical that our legislators and the governor renew their commitment to a continuing, stable source of funding for this program.

Shamefully, the second-most-affluent state in the nation is home to dozens of cities and towns that are in varying states of decline and decay. The key to rebuilding these communities is saving, adapting and restoring historic buildings, and rehabilitating and reusing existing infrastructure.

The New Jersey Historic Trust, of which I am vice chair, has a critical role to play in revitalization efforts. But until New Jersey citizens and policy-makers at the state and local levels acknowledge that historic preservation and economic revitalization are inextricably connected, a permanent solution to funding historic-preservation grants is unlikely to be a priority.

In 1997, Rutgers University's Center for Urban Policy Research issued a report documenting that the state's historic-preservation initiatives generated $580 million annually in direct economic activity. More important, that report showed that "every $1 million spent on historic rehabilitation generates 38.3 jobs, $1.3 million in payroll and business earnings, and $202,000 in state taxes, compared with 36 jobs, $1.2 million in income, and $189,000 in taxes from new-construction projects."

Sadly, a decade later, historic preservation remains a quaint footnote in strategic planning for economic development by planners and policy-makers.

The rehabilitation of aging cities is not a quick fix. But an economic-development plan that promotes the reuse and rehabilitation of historic properties will enhance the livability and encourage the long-term prosperity of New Jersey's communities, large and small.

Since 2000, the New Jersey Historic Trust's grant program has benefited cities and towns with more than $56 million, leveraging more than $112 million in reinvestment.

But without a secure, predictable source of funding for the Preservation Trust Fund, the Historic Trust will lose its capacity to be a critical long-term funding partner in reclaiming the civic, cultural, and economic vitality of our cities and towns.