City explores MDAH program

Published 10:09 am Thursday, March 19, 2015

Brookhaven officials are considering joining a state-wide program that promotes historic preservation and awards grant funding to help restore and maintain historic places.

Barry White with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History told the Board of Aldermen Tuesday in special work meeting that joining the program could help the city receive grant funds to repair the roof of the old train depot on South Whitworth Avenue.

White spoke to the board about the city becoming a part of the Certified Local Government Program. A Certified Local Government is a county or municipality that has established its own historic preservation commission and program that meets federal and state standards and has obtained certification of such action from MDAH and the National Park Service.

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If the city of Brookhaven were to participate in the program it would allow the board to apply for two different grants that could provide funds to help with the upkeep and preservation of buildings in the city. The first is a small CLG grant that awards $75,000 annually to entities on the National Register of Historic Places to help with small brick and mortar operations, training, signage and other needs. The second grant is the Community Heritage Preservation Grant, which gives out more than $10 million a year to CLG’s across the state.

White said the grant was initially created for schools and courthouses but guidelines have changed allowing entities that identify as Mississippi Landmarks to apply if those landmarks are part of a CLG.

“It really does help preserve the historical integrity of the town,” White said.

If applied for and awarded for a specific project, the grant would cover 80 percent of the cost of the project and the remaining 20 percent of the cost would come from the city.

For the city to become a Certified Local Government, the board would have to develop a preservation ordinance which would establish and empower a preservation commission of at least five but fewer than 10 members. The commission would have quarterly meetings and communicate regularly with MDAH.

White said the reason for such a commission came from the department’s desire for each Certified Local Government to have a local organization that would know the needs of the community better than a visitor from the department.

Also, a section of the city would need to be specified as the initial district upon which the preservation ordinance would apply. White said the section could be as small as two parcels of property. More sections can be added to the original section in the future.

The board had concerns about timeframes for getting certification and applying for grants in time to stop further damage to the roof of the train depot – the need that spurred interest in the program. Other concerns were possible obstacles businesses and homeowners would face when making changes to buildings on their property if that property is part of one of the districts that fall under the preservation ordinance.

White said since the depot is currently on the National Register of Historic Places the process would take around six months. He said that the deadline to apply for the CLG grant has already passed but the deadline to apply for CHPG funds is December 2015.

White asked the board to gauge public interest before making a decision about the program. The board made no decision but received literature about the program as well as a sample preservation ordinance before breaking from the meeting.