Historic Sullivan's: State preservation designation makes island eligible for grants, but funding is in question

The Fort Moultrie Post Exchange is within the Sullivan's Island Historic District and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Former military installations on the island have allowed neighborhoods to be placed on the register, making proper

JESSICA JOHNSON

Sullivan's Island recently became a certified local government through the State Historic Preservation Office, and it's just in time.

The state office offers grants for historic preservation projects through its office, but due to state funding cuts, certified governments will be the only ones eligible to apply for National Historic Preservation Grants in 2011.

The program recognizes governments with established local preservation programs that identify and protect historic properties.

Mount Pleasant and Charleston, both with historic districts, are among the 31 municipalities that have the "certified" designation.

Yvonne Fortenberry, director of design development and preservation for Charleston, said the city will ask for a $30,000 grant to be matched by $30,000 from the State Ports Authority to fund an engineering study examining how to protect the decaying facade of Bennett's Rice Mill at Union Pier.

She said she doesn't know what the authority will do if the grant is denied, which is likely.

The state preservation office has seen severe cuts to its budget in the past several years.

Brad Sauls, a supervisor of registration, grant and outreach at the state office said it has had no state funding to offer as grants since 2002.

And in more recent times, the office has used more of its national preservation grant funds for operating the state's program.

The state office is charged with reviewing all nominations to the National Register of Historic Places and has to oversee any historic preservation projects using federal money.

Once a town or county becomes a certified local government, staff must also review those certified communities' preservation ordinances and design review boards.

Each year, the state has received about $500,000 to $740,000 in federal preservation grants, which are funded through the leasing of offshore oil drilling sites. Federal law requires state offices to spend at least 10 percent of the annual federal grant on certified local governments. Sauls said he's still waiting to hear what the federal government will award the state in 2011.

In the last two fiscal years, the state has awarded $152,000 in grants for restoration projects, including a restoration of The Verdier House in Beaufort and replacing a roof of the York Senior Center, which is the former site of the 1890 Ware's Supermarket.

Sauls said the state rarely awards grants for privately owned historic properties, but people who rehabilitate their historic homes may be able to receive a state income tax credit of up to 25 percent of the cost of materials used.

Owners of commercial properties can write off 20 percent of expenses on federal income taxes and 10 percent of expenses on state income taxes.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has some grant funds available, and some historic sites, including the National Bean Market Museum in Lake City, have obtained funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Office, Sauls said. Otherwise, the state preservation office offers some of the only historic preservation funding available.

In recent years, Charleston used grants from the state office to pay for a study documenting the character of Charleston neighborhoods, such as Byrnes Downs, Old Windermere in West Ashley and Cannonborough and Elliottborough on the Charleston peninsula.

Mount Pleasant had applied for grant funds to do a similar study of its Old Village Historic District, but was denied, so the town paid for it on its own, said Kiera Reinertsen, a Mount Pleasant town planner.

Lisa Darrow, assistant to the Sullivan's Island town administrator, doesn't expect that the town would receive much, if any, funding.

The town, which has a unique military history, already was eligible for the state program. It was just a matter of requesting the certification, she said.

"Sullivan's Island is usually not poor enough or big enough to get anything," Darrow said.

The certification simply encourages the town to maintain the preservation ordinances and protection it has worked for.

Randy Robinson, the town's chief building inspector, plans to request funding to send members of the design review board to the state preservation office's annual conferences to ensure that board members are properly trained and hopes that they might learn about other funding available to restore the island's historic properties.

Reach Jessica Miller at 937-5921.