“March Madness” in the historic preservation world isn’t quite the same as the highly competitive, single-elimination college basketball tournaments that happen each March.
I’ve coopted the phrase to describe National Historic Preservation Advocacy Week and the days leading up to it in our office. Just like the NCAA I players that begin prepping and practicing weeks and months before their games, we kick off each New Year with making plans, preparing materials and partipants, and scheduling visits for Advocacy Week.
One big difference, of course, is that preservationists don’t compete against each other in a nail-biting, winner-takes-all game. One big similarlity, however, is the frenzy of activity, nerves, and excitement before the big event.
Advocacy Week Explained
Advocacy Week is a national outreach campaign each March targeted at federal legislators to educate legislators and their staff about historic preservation in their districts and request their support for important preservation funding and legislation.
Preservationists from across the country convene in Washington, D.C. the second week of March to visit congressional offices, network, and attend National Park Service and Advisory Council meetings and the annual meetings of national historic preservation groups like Preservation Action, the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers (NCSHPO), and the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions (NAPC).
We connect with our Representatives and Senators in March, rather than in Historic Preservation Month in May, because of the federal appropriations schedule. Spring is the time of year when appropriations and budgets are proposed, debated, and passed in Washington. March visits with congressional offices mean that we can provide them with the information they need to make their decisions about how to financially support the federal historic preservation program.
Advocacy Week, COVID-style
Last year, my colleagues and I were in Washington, D.C. last year wrapping up our visits when COVID warnings and safety protocols were just emerging. This year, we became pros at virtual advocacy – and I think we can all say it was a resounding success.
We were able to talk with both Senate offices and 14 (!) of our 18 Congressional offices. The virtual format gave us the opportunity to spread out the meetings over a few days rather than squeezing them all in to one day. Another bonus: rather than the quick 15 or 20 minute conversations we’d have to have in hallways, lobbies or even closets (yes, that has happened), we had more time to talk with the staffers we met with and have a conversation about what historic preservation is, why it matters, the importance of federal support, and how we can be a resource.
We could easily include local experts, advocates and constituents on our calls. This was the number one advantage of a virtual rather than in person visit. A trip to Washington isn’t cheap and the virtual format removed that barrier to participation for PA SHPO and others. Partners from Preservation Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, Preservation Pittsburgh, representatives of Pennsylvania’s Certified Local Governments, students from the University of Pennsylvania and others helped us make meaningful connections between congressional staffers and constituents about the importance of historic preservation in their districts.
The 2021 Messages
This year’s message wasn’t markedly different than previous years. For us, we focused on four things:
Education about the PA SHPO, the federal preservation program in Pennsylvania, and historic preservation activity in each district. We believe that one of the most important things we can do during the Advocacy Week visits is make sure that each Congressional and Senate office knows that the PA SHPO is an important resource for them and their constituents. PA SHPO’s Annual Report for 2020 provides key information to help that conversation and is a useful reference.
Full funding for the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF). The HPF has been in place since 1976 as the financial support for SHPOs and THPOs and federal historic preservation programs established in the National Historic Preservation Act, as amended but has never been fully funded to it’s cap of $150 million. This year we asked for full funding, which includes $60 million for SHPOs, $24 for THPOs and a number of competitive grants. You can read more about that here and here.
Support for temporary and permanent enhancements of the historic tax credit. The tax credit was threatened a few years ago but strong advocacy work across the country along with bipartisan legislative support meant kept this important program in place. This year we talked about a temporary increase in the tax credit from 20% to 30% to help business owners challenged by the pandemic and permanent enhancements that would make the credit more accessible to small rehabilitation projects and non-profit organizations. You can read more about that here and the recently released FFY2020 Historic Tax Credit Annual Report.
Participation in the Historic Preservation Caucus. This group, led by Representatives Blumauer (D-OR) and Turner (D-OH), brings together Members of Congress who understand the underappreciated potential of America’s historic places. Thank you to Congressman Cartwright (D-8), Congressman Doyle (D-19) and Congresswoman Wild (D-7) for representing Pennsylvania on the caucus. We’d love to see more from Pennsylvania join! You can learn more about the caucus here.
I think it is safe to say that we all missed our marathon March Madness day in Washington, running through Congressional office buildings and back and forth across Capitol Hill in comfortable shoes hoping our next Advocacy Week appointment would also be a success.
The success we had with this year’s virtual visits has proven that they have value, too, in connecting people for meaninful conversations and in building strong relationships at the local, state and national level. I owe a huge thank you to my PA SHPO colleagues and the many others who joined us this year for their participation and enthusiasm.
I know as we begin to prepare for next year’s March Madness we’ll do our best to build on this year’s success and continue to find new ways to communicate why preservation matters and the positive impact it has in each district.