Can Leasing Historic Properties Help Fund Repairs at National Parks?

Popularity at Martin Luther King Jr. site shows program’s potential

Can Leasing Historic Properties Help Fund Repairs at National Parks?
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The Pew Charitable Trusts/Cadmus Group
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This historic home in Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park is shown in 2003, when the National Park Service acquired it, and in 2009, after the agency refurbished it. The house still needs thousands of dollars’ worth of interior renovations before it can be leased.

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.

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King’s birthplace is the main attraction at the NPS site in Atlanta that bears his name.
The Pew Charitable Trusts

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.
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Some of the historic homes that NPS rents in Atlanta contribute to neighborhood revitalization and generate revenue that can help the agency address overdue repairs at the historic buildings.
The Pew Charitable Trusts

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

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Can Leasing Buildings Within National Parks Help Solve Maintenance Backlog?

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Can Leasing Buildings Within National Parks Help Solve Maintenance Backlog?

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site
Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site
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Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site

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Fact Sheet

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site

At the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, visitors can explore some of the places that helped shape the civil rights leader’s life. The 38-acre park in the Sweet Auburn community, which includes the gravesites of King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, attracts more than 673,000 visitors annually.

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The beauty, history, and stories behind America’s national parks leave many visitors in awe. Unfortunately, the curb appeal of the parks, recreation areas, historic sites, and monuments managed by the National Park Service (NPS) often masks significant challenges.

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site
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