Status: Progress Made
In November 2015, New Jersey voters approved funding through the Preserve New Jersey Historic Preservation Fund, which provides grants for historic preservation projects statewide. Although this grant program is a step in the right direction, the level of funding was diminished compared to funding through the Garden State Historic Preservation Trust Fund (2000-2012). As a result, preservation advocates must find additional funding sources to assist the New Jersey Historic Trust fulfill one of its key missions to provide financial investment programs that save our heritage and strengthen our communities.
For more than 45 years, the State of New Jersey has recognized the importance of preserving and rehabilitating important historic landmarks owned by county and local governments and non-profit organizations. In accord, the citizens of New Jersey, in each decade since the 1980s, have strongly supported statewide ballot questions on funding the New Jersey Historic Trust’s (NJHT) historic preservation grant programs as part of the state’s “greening” initiatives, which also include Green Acres open space conservation and the Farmland Preservation Program.
Now, in 2013, the three programs of the Garden State Preservation Trust (GSPT) are essentially out of money, and by year’s end the NJHT’s “bricks and mortar” capital grants will come to an end. The potential loss of the only grant program in New Jersey dedicated solely to advancing historic preservation projects endangers most every landmark in the state, including government buildings, houses of worship and museums housed in historic sites. Not only are cherished historic places at risk as funding ends, but so, too, are the many hundreds of skilled design, planning and construction jobs that grant-funded projects create.
The economic revitalization that these key historic preservation projects spur in their communities will sputter without the related development activity that NJHT grant-funded projects infuse in often-troubled neighborhoods. The many millions of dollars in restoration and rehabilitation grants that this program has provided have leveraged non-state investment many times over in the fifteen years since the GSPT was created. Just a few examples include:
Bivalve Shipping Sheds and Wharves, Commercial Township
Constructed between 1904 and 1916, the Bivalve Shipping Sheds and Wharves complex was the centerpiece of the Maurice River and Delaware Bay oyster industry. These buildings are scarce reminders of the multi-million-dollar industry that once prospered on the bay and defined the regional economy. Grant funding from the NJHT has enabled the non-profit Bayshore to Discovery Project to rehabilitate the site for use as their headquarters, a museum, an environmental educational facility, and as the base of operations for New Jersey’s tall ship, A.J. Meerwald.
Rogers Locomotive Fitting Shop, Paterson
The $6.3 million adaptive use of the Rogers Locomotive Fitting Shop in Paterson’s Great Falls National Historic Landmark District was completed with NJHT grants that funded the exterior restoration. Now the “Frank Lautenberg Transportation Opportunity Center,” the facility provides transportation, education, daycare and administrative services to immigrant and welfare-to-work residents to assist them in gaining employment in the region.
Hunterdon County Courthouse, Flemington
Best known as the site of the infamous 1935 Lindbergh kidnapping trial, the Hunterdon County Courthouse in Flemington is one of the oldest surviving county courthouses in New Jersey. Built in 1828 and a fine example of Greek Revival civic architecture, its restoration was completed thanks to critical matching grants from the NJHT.
In May 2012, the NJHT undertook a statewide Capital Needs Survey designed to assess the variety and expanse of need for “bricks and mortar” preservation funding throughout New Jersey. That survey evidenced at least $730 million in need, a figure that has already increased dramatically as a result of Hurricane Sandy’s impact on historic resources statewide.
A bill (SCR138/ACR179) that would allow New Jerseyans to vote to dedicate a portion of sales tax revenue to fund the New Jersey Historic Trust, Green Acres, Blue Acres and Farmland Preservation programs has been proposed and awaits committee hearings. In order for a question to appear on this November’s ballot, this bill must be passed by June 30.
Governor Christie and the New Jersey Legislature must agree on and advance an appropriate and effective long-term, stable GSPT funding source, enact needed legislation, and place a question on the 2013 ballot to allow citizens to vote on the continuation of the New Jersey Historic Trust, Green Acres, and Farmland Preservation programs. The historic preservation and environmental communities have come together in partnership, through the NJ Keep it Green campaign, to push for the legislation and ballot measure. Even if this effort is successful, the challenge will continue, as a victorious vote on the ultimate ballot question will require a vigorous public campaign and commitment of significant resources on the part of every history and preservation organization, the preservation trades and building industry, and everyone who supports the long-term survival of New Jersey’s historic built environment.
New Jerseyans have long affirmed their overwhelming support for Garden State Preservation Trust funding, and more than ever, New Jersey needs the job creation and economic stimulation that historic preservation fosters. The time to continue New Jersey’s leadership in conservation and preservation is now.
Preservation New Jersey, Inc.
NJ Keep It Green