Novel Partnerships Help National Parks Address Maintenance Backlog

Leasing historic sites funds needed repairs and visitors benefit

Novel Partnerships Help National Parks Address Maintenance Backlog
Parks
This 19th-century barn, a historic National Park Service structure, was converted into a Montessori school.
Montessori Children’s House of Valley Forge

Members of a congressional committee plan to travel to Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas on Sept. 17 to examine firsthand how the practice of historic leasing can improve the visitor experience at national parks and address deferred maintenance.

With the National Park Service (NPS) facing a maintenance backlog estimated at $11.6 billion, the agency must look to a variety of solutions to tackle repairs. In some cases, companies and organizations have leased NPS buildings and property, agreeing to restore aspects of those assets. Historic leasing brings private dollars to preserving NPS buildings that these groups then use as schools, hotels, and, in one case, a brewery.

Here are three examples of how repurposing the NPS historic buildings is helping address its maintenance backlog.

Parks
The Montessori school, in a converted barn, sits on 3.5 acres in Pennsylvania’s Valley Forge National Historical Park.
Montessori Children’s House of Valley Forge

Pennsylvania park gains funding through a bucolic preschool

The preschoolers at Montessori Children’s House of Valley Forge have an idyllic setting for their classroom—a renovated farmhouse and barn in Pennsylvania’s Valley Forge National Historical Park. In 2005, the school approached NPS about leasing the 3.5 acres. The school covered the property’s overhaul costs in exchange for a long-term lease and opened to students in February 2010. Renovations included remodeling a 19th-century home—it’s now a library and parent meeting room—and transforming a vacant barn with years of deferred maintenance into a six-classroom schoolhouse.

Parks
The Superior Bathhouse Brewery still has some of the iconic features of the original bathhouse.
Superior Bathhouse Brewery

Historic lease turns bathhouse into brewery

Hot Springs, Arkansas, has been a relaxing, popular, and celebrated place to soak and vacation since the 1800s, earning the nickname The American Spa. Hot Springs National Park was established in 1921 and, as it approaches its 100th anniversary, is showing its age, with unfunded repairs that forced NPS to close many of the park’s ornate bathhouses. But historic leasing created an opportunity for an innovative solution: In 2013, Rose Schweikhart entered into a lease to transform one old bathhouse into Superior Bathhouse Brewery, which uses the 144-degree local water in its libations—the only brewery in the world to craft beer using hot springs. Superior is the first of its kind in a U.S. national park and is providing something more valuable than beer: revenue for the local community.

The leasing arrangement preserved the historic building, which had been vacant for 30 years, and addressed deferred maintenance in the process.

Parks
The former Del Monte cannery and warehouse is now a 252-room hotel that overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge.
Pebblebrook Hotel Trust

Partnership transforms warehouse into a boutique hotel

The Argonaut Hotel fronts the bay at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park in the Golden Gate City. A historic lease led to a 100-year-old warehouse being converted into the hotel. Seated on the waterfront between Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Chocolate Co., it was once the Del Monte Cannery—the world’s largest fruit and vegetable factory at the time—and more recently was used by NPS to store nautical gear.

As part of the deal with NPS, the hotel owners addressed the deferred maintenance issues. The Argonaut opened in August 2003 and houses the park’s visitor center and a museum.

More than 47 percent of the assets on NPS’ deferred maintenance list are historic, according to 2017 data from the agency. Historic leasing, tailored to individual sites, can be an essential tool to help NPS respond to its maintenance backlog.

Marcia Argust directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ campaign to restore America’s parks.

National parks
National parks
Article

Innovative Public-Private Partnerships Can Help Fix Our Parks

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Article

In this four-part series, I share a number of ways the National Park Service is working with the private sector—from for-profit companies and service organizations to philanthropists—to help eliminate an $11.3 billion repair backlog at our national parks, monuments, memorials, and historic sites. These partnerships are a vital part of efforts to restore and protect our most treasured places.

Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs National Park
Fact Sheet

Hot Springs National Park

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Fact Sheet

For centuries, American Indian tribes recognized the healing powers of hot springs that flowed from the western slope of a mountain in Arkansas' Ouachita range. By 1832, when President Andrew Jackson designated Hot Springs Reservation as the nation's first federally protected recreation area, a town had sprung up around the springs. Samuel W. Fordyce, a business and railroad magnate, moved to "the American spa," as the town became known, in 1876 after experiencing the thermal waters, said to treat rheumatism and other ailments. He and others constructed large hotels, utility systems, street railway systems, and grand bathhouses, most of which are still open to the public.

National park maintenance
National park maintenance
Article

National Park Service Partnering on Repairs

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When smart, dedicated people from different organizational cultures come together to pursue a goal, good things can happen. Leaders at the National Park Service (NPS) know this and have entered into partnerships to address deferred maintenance projects at several NPS sites across the county.  The work ranges from fixing crumbling concrete and preserving archeological sites to restoring historic buildings and updating failing electrical systems—all part of an $11.3 billion maintenance backlog across the NPS’ more than 400 sites. The issues can affect access and safety, and even threaten the very items and sites the NPS was created to protect.