Earlier this week, Preservation Virginia held their annual conference right here in Leesburg. Among the topics addressed, one of the most pressing was the issue of economic sustainability for historic sites in Virginia and nationwide. This is no small matter.
When we save a historically significant site, we then have to care for it and support it. If you own a home, you know that maintenance costs for an ordinary property are sometimes daunting. The cost of caring for 200+ year old buildings can be staggering, especially since close attention must be paid to using appropriate materials and methods of repair.
There was a lot of discussion at the conference about funding models. Government funds have dried up and aren’t a reliable source of income for these sites. Visitation has been flat or declining among house museums in particular for years, so admission fees aren’t the income source solution either. Lots of other models were discussed, including innovative use of tax credits, leasing arrangements, events, and adaptive reuses of these properties. The vital nature of cultural and natural resource preservation in drawing tourism to our region was highlighted, and is one of the most hopeful pieces of the funding jigsaw puzzle.
More and more donors are looking at their charitable contributions as investments in organizations. At Oatlands, we view every donor as investor in our mission to serve the community. We know that there are people out there who share our passion for preserving our cultural and natural resources, and we are deeply grateful to them every day. But the donations from this group aren’t going to be enough in the long-term to preserve and sustain all the worthy sites in this country.
What are your thoughts about sustainable economic models? Are you a preservation purist, or are you open to innovative, non-traditional uses of these properties? Do you think historic sites are important at all? Important to tourism? We’d love to engage people in this conversation and learn from everyone’s thoughts.