When a professional preservationist comes across an endangered place, or a client comes to you with a historic commercial property seeking insurance, the first question to ask is whether the place is listed. This can mean a handful of things, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation: is it a National Historic Landmark? On the National Register of Historic Places? Or maybe it’s covered in a state or local designation? It’s important to know the difference between a national landmark and a local one, both for the sake of your client’s property and so you can have a complete understanding of its insurance needs and any possible legal requirements or restrictions. This is what you need to know about historic property designation.
Including the National Historic Landmark (NHL) program and the National Register for Historic Places (NR), both are managed by the National Park Service. NHL’s hold a significant impact in our history, while NR’s are structures that are more than 50 years old. Those that are NHL’s are also designated automatically on the NR.
On a state level, historic sites can be listed on the state register, which is managed by that area’s State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). Criteria for listing a historic place varies by state, and not all states have registers, so it’s important that property owners connect with the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers website.
Enacted by local communities, a preservation ordinance can be put into place to protect a property. This ordinance makes it that much harder to alter the property. By establishing a design review board, the historic district designation process can really take effect. It’s important to note that a historic site can have local, state and federal designations, and all of these should be looked into.
Benefits of Historic Designation
The NR and the NHL both offer protections—through significant legal hurdles—in the event that something threatens a historic site (for example, a federal highway being built). It also makes property owners eligible for preservation refunds and federal historic tax credits that can assist with the costs of rehabilitation. To top it off, a place’s recognition as a NHL or NR listing helps initiate the process of receiving preservation funding from state and local governments. If a property is listed on the state register, it’s effectively protected from state government work, meaning they are eligible for state funding, tax incentives and benefits. Historic designation keeps a property safe from future building plans.
How to Apply for Historic Designation
While the National Park Service manages the NHL and the NR, both have different processes. For a site to become a NHL, the owner, preservation organization, or interested member of the general public must nominate it to the National Historic Landmarks Program. From there, it gets sent to approval and makes its way to the Landmarks Committee. From there, it goes to the Secretary of the Interior. And then from there, it can take two to five years for the recommendation to go into effect.
Regardless of historic designation, every historic commercial property can and should have historic commercial property insurance. If your clients are seeking designation, it’s likely that they are concerned about the cost of maintaining and protecting their property, and a historic commercial property program can be another way for them to ensure that their properties will be safe in the event of loss, damage or disaster.