No one benefits as much from the preservation of local historic sites and buildings nor suffers as much by their destruction as the citizens of a community. It is the members of the community who feel most personally, the loss of a treasured local landmark that was a fixture in their lives and a part of the fabric of their community. It is the community members who live and work in historic homes and neighborhoods who see the positive effects of rehabilitation projects every day, but the entire community profits from the economic and social benefits gained through the revitalization of its downtown and the rehabilitation of the community’s historic assets.
The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 established a nationwide program of financial and technical assistance to preserve historic properties, including buildings, structures, sites, neighborhoods, and other places of importance in the historical and cultural life of the nation. A local government can participate directly in this program when the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), which is the Tennessee Historical Commission in our state, certifies that the local municipal government has established its own historical commission and a program meeting Federal and state standards. A local government that receives such certification is known as a “Certified Local Government” or “CLG”.
Certified Local Governments are eligible to apply for specially earmarked grants from the SHPO. Additionally, at least ten percent of the annual Historic Preservation Fund grant made to the Tennessee Historical Commission is distributed among CLGs in Tennessee. CLGs receive priority in technical assistance and services from the Tennessee Historical Commission that can be used for comprehensive development planning. Tullahoma’s current Comprehensive Development Plan was last updated nine years ago. Most communities update their comprehensive plans every five years. Training sessions for historic zoning commissioners can be held on-site at the request of CLGs and special networking meetings are held for local government staff and historic zoning commissioners to discuss issues in historic zoning and preservation. As of the writing of this article, Tullahoma is the largest town in Tennessee that is not a CLG. Manchester, Lynchburg, and Winchester? All CLGs.
Why this is important now
The economic effects of COVID-19 will continue beyond the pandemic itself. Each historic building and structure represents a community investment that should not be discarded lightly; maintaining and rehabilitating older buildings and neighborhoods can mean savings in time, money, and raw materials. CLG funding will provide additional economic aid for these efforts. According to the Tennessee Preservation Trust, “the value of historic preservation goes beyond protecting communities’ quality of life, it is also a significant economic engine that contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to the Tennessee economy every year.”
Additionally, cultural tourism creates jobs and new business opportunities while strengthening the local economy. The return of tourism to our area will be critical to the Tullahoma area’s economic rebound. Linking tourism with the downtown revitalization and historic preservation in Tullahoma will only benefit the local economy. Now is the time to recognize the community assets we already have in place, such as our spot along the Whiskey trail, and enhance those assets through programs such as the CLG.
If Tullahoma is designated as a Certified Local Government, it will be eligible to use the state’s resources to plan for a revitalized downtown and develop activated spaces for creative talent to gather, interact, and thrive, providing unique and authentic experiences for locals and tourists alike; places that will attract and retain top talent; places that will attract tourists to experience Tullahoma and everything it has to offer, and who may just decide to stay and start businesses of their own.
According to Dr. Robert Benedict with Clemson’s Department of City Planning and Real Estate Development, “Once we recover from these difficult times of social distancing, people will clearly place greater value on the social environment and the character of a community. The historic resources of a town greatly contribute to the character and social environment of a town. They represent a sense of continuity from earlier times both good and bad. The CLG program was created by the National Park Service to assist communities so that they will be economically stable and thrive. As a resource, the CLG Program provides guidance and grant opportunities so that communities can celebrate and preserve their historic resources.”
The preservation of Tullahoma’s historical resources as major contributors to what makes us “a community as unique as our name” will enrich the lives of residents now and in the future. Pursuing Tullahoma’s designation as a Certified Local Government will play a critical role in the economic recovery of our town, our region, and will establish lasting economic resiliency. Sheltering in place does not mean that the world is on pause. Applying for designation as a Certified Local Government is something that our community can do right now that will pay dividends later.