STATEMENT OF PETER MAY, ASSOCIATE REGIONAL DIRECTOR, NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS AND PUBLIC LANDS OF THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING H.R. 2240, TO AUTHORIZE THE EXCHANGE OF LAND OR INTEREST IN LAND BETWEEN LOWELL NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK AND THE CITY OF LOWELL IN THE COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
January 24, 2012
Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on H.R. 2240, a bill to authorize the exchange of land or interest in land between Lowell National Historical Park and the city of Lowell in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and for other purposes.
The Department supports enactment of this legislation. H.R. 2240 would enable Lowell National Historical Park to acquire land by means of exchange with public entities and to continue beyond 2018 the successful use of the Preservation Loan Fund to help finance the restoration and redevelopment of historic structures. Both of these provisions would facilitate the park’s long-term goals without requiring any additional appropriations.
Public Law 95-290, enacted in 1978, established Lowell National Historical Park to preserve and interpret the city’s nationally significant historical and cultural sites, structures, and districts associated with the city’s role in the 19th Century American industrial revolution. Along with the park, the law established the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission to complement and coordinate the efforts of the park, the Commonwealth, and local and private entities in developing and managing the historic and cultural resources and to administer the Lowell Historic Preservation District. The law established an arrangement that requires a high level of cooperation between the Federal, Commonwealth, and local governments, and the private sector. The General Management Plan (GMP) and the Lowell Preservation Plan were designed to be supportive of local government preservation and community development efforts and to encourage substantial private investment in the redevelopment of the city’s vast 19th-century urban resources.
Over the past three decades, the park and the commission have played a key role in the city’s revitalization. Working in cooperation with the city, Commonwealth, and other public entities and private partners, the National Park Service has contributed to the rehabilitation of over 400 structures and the creation of extensive public programs to preserve and interpret the city’s cultural resources. An estimated $1 billion in private investment has occurred within the park and preservation district since the creation of the park. To date, 88 percent of the 5.2 million square feet of vacant mill space within the park and preservation district has been renovated or is in the process of being renovated in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.
Because of changes in the vicinity of the park as these preservation and redevelopment efforts have occurred, the National Park Service would like to shift the use, management, or ownership of some park lands in order to facilitate their redevelopment for other uses. The park’s maintenance facility and visitor center parking lot sites, which are not historic, have been identified by the University of Massachusetts—Lowell, and the City of Lowell, respectively, as critical to their master plan redevelopment programs. The university and city seek to acquire these sites from the park, have proposed to develop them in ways consistent with the mission, intent and purposes of the park, and have expressed a willingness to work with the park to help facilitate the equitable exchange and relocation of these facilities. The park’s September 2010 GMP Amendment specifically recommended the Visitor Center Parking Lot exchange with the city. The University’s request to exchange the park’s maintenance facility came after the GMP, but is in the park’s long-term interest. The National Park Service supports the exchange of both the Visitor Center Parking Lot and the park’s maintenance facility.
Under current law, the park has authority to acquire property from the Commonwealth or its political subdivisions only by donation. H.R. 2240 would give the park the authority to acquire land by exchange from the Commonwealth, the city of Lowell, or the University of Massachusetts Building Authority. This authority would enable the park to conduct both proposed land exchanges. The legislation ensures that if the value of land to be acquired by the park is lower than the value of the land exchanged, the city or Commonwealth would be required to make a cash payment to equalize values and the park would have use of those funds for the purpose of replacing exchanged facilities and infrastructure. At this time the National Park Service has not identified potential exchange properties.
The Preservation Loan Fund was also authorized in the Public Law 95-290 and formally established in 1983. The purpose of the fund is to stimulate private investment in nationally significant historic buildings to meet the historic preservation mandate within the Lowell National Historical Park and Preservation District. The law directed the commission to loan the funds to the non-profit Lowell Development and Financial Corporation, to create a revolving loan fund to accomplish historic preservation goals. The program has funded twenty-one nationally significant historic building projects with loans totaling approximately $2.5 million. The original Federal appropriation of $750,000 leveraged non-federal project investments totaling approximately $130.3 million to date, representing over $173 in non-federal investment for each Federal dollar appropriated.
The Preservation Loan Fund was initially authorized for a 35-year period expiring in 2018. H.R. 2240 would extend the program for an additional 25 years. The extension of the program would enable existing funds to continue in a revolving fund for the purposes identified in the original authorization. No additional appropriations would be needed. Despite what has been accomplished in Lowell, numerous historic structures still require rehabilitation, and this program is an important catalyst for generating the private and non-federal funding needed to ensure the preservation of these structures. Extending this authorization would greatly enhance the park’s efforts to assure the integrity of the park and preservation district.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or members of the subcommittee may have regarding H.R. 2240.