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$750K grant issued to revitalize historic Appalachian buildings

A street with several 2-story buildings, many of which have signs attached. Cars are parked along both sides of the street.
Michael Pulice
The Virginia Department of Historic Resources will receive a Paul Bruhn Historic Revitalization grant to support rehabilitation of historic buildings in places like Covington in the Appalachian region of the state.

The Virginia Department of Historic Resources will set up an application process in the coming months.

On Thursday, the National Park Service awarded more than $9 million in grant funding to 12 states — and $750,000 of it is going toward projects in Virginia’s rural Appalachian region.

Caitlin Sylvester, grant coordinator at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, said the team applied for the grant specifically to benefit its Appalachian Virginia Revitalization Subgrant Program, which provides funding to transform historic buildings into public spaces.

“That is an area that definitely needs more public services, and public funding and things like that,” she said. “Once public funds have been expended in that area, we do see a return.”

Sylvester referenced a 2017 Virginia Commonwealth University study that found a 43% increase in travel expenditures to Southwest Virginia, from 2004-12, reaching up to $927 million in 2012.

The funds will be used for what Sylvester called “substantial rehabilitations”: construction and repairs of public and nonprofit-owned buildings central to their respective communities like local museums, theaters and other historic sites.

“Instead of funding a lot of smaller projects at smaller dollar numbers, we would like to fund fewer projects at larger dollar amounts,” she said. “Now during the periods of high inflation and things like labor and material shortages, we wanted to be able to really fund work on a few buildings that would have a high impact.”

According to Sylvester, DHR does not “anticipate funding much more than around $200,000 per project” and will be “accepting applications for funding from those 25 counties that are within the Appalachian Regional Commission's service area.”

Opportunities for involvement including public comment and meetings will be offered. The department’s western regional office will also assist with community outreach.

Sylvester said that preservation is important to the people who live in these communities but may not otherwise have access to funds for protecting their buildings through time: “You lose a sense of place when you lose some of those historic buildings that people have been attached to.”

According to Sylvester, this funding will also augment ongoing cultural preservation of music and recreation in Southwest Virginia. “Since historic places contribute to the authentic experience, they can tangibly tell a story in a way that augments that celebration of food and music, art, and other cultural lifeways.”

The DHR is working on the applications to access the funds but doesn’t have a timeline for when they’ll be available.

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