Imagine living in the middle of a national park and steps from where one of history’s greatest civil rights leaders was born and raised. Both are realities for tenants of 13 historic houses in Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn neighborhood, all within the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park and available for lease from the National Park Service (NPS). The program is popular—there’s a waitlist to rent the properties—but 10 similar homes remain vacant, awaiting needed repairs before they can be occupied.
A new case study by the Cadmus Group, commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts, demonstrates that investment and appropriate staffing can increase leasing opportunities within the park, which in turn could generate revenue to help address the almost $14 million in repairs needed there. Overall, the NPS faces a maintenance backlog of nearly $12 billion across its more than 400 sites.
The case study, “Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park: Can an Expanded Leasing Program Reduce Deferred Maintenance?” concludes that historic leasing could benefit other NPS sites as well and recommends that the park take these steps to successfully leverage historic leasing potential:
- Conduct a study to help set guidelines for NPS as it works with developers to turn vacant property into revenue-generating assets.
- Consider leasing packages that bundle neighboring structures, which could encourage property management firms to take over the restoration of numerous buildings in poor condition.
- Hire staff to oversee the historic leasing program and ensure that they have dedicated funding.
- Consider rebuilding period homes on vacant lots. Because restoring existing structures may be prohibitively costly, NPS could construct replicas and use the savings to pay for other deferred maintenance projects.
Marcia Argust directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ campaign to restore America’s parks.
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