In November 2011, President Obama created the Fort Monroe National Monument to honor the 193-year-old fortress’s deep historical significance. This place literally bookends the slavery experience in America: In 1619, the first enslaved Africans in the New World landed at what is now Fort Monroe, and in 1861, the fort witnessed the beginnings of the Civil War-era freedom movement.
President Obama’s declaration -- the culmination of collaboration between national, state and local allies since 2005 -- hardly signaled the end of the National Trust’s work there (it's now a National Treasure). In fact, it could be argued, the most important work lies ahead: finalizing the plan for Fort Monroe’s future.
The Fort Monroe Authority and the National Park Service share stewardship responsibility for the 570-acre site, and the Authority has hired a planning and design firm, Sasaki Associates, to develop a master plan that will describe the new mix of economically sustainable uses at the site, including museum, housing, and commercial space.
David Brown, National Trust Executive Vice President and Chief Preservation Officer, recently made the case for rehabbing and reusing the fort’s vast number of historic buildings in an opinion piece published by the Virginian-Pilot. The following is an excerpt from "The Economic Power of Preservation":
Historic preservation is a true economic engine. Researchers have found that $1 million invested in historic rehabilitation produces more jobs, income and state and local taxes than $1 million invested in new construction, highway construction, machinery manufacturing, agriculture or telecommunications. This bears repeating: Preservation beats out new construction in creating jobs -- more and better-paying ones, and ones that can't be outsourced.
This message is especially relevant to the conversations concerning the reuse of one of our nation's most significant historic sites, Fort Monroe, which the president wisely designated a national monument last fall. The site consists of 180 historic buildings that, given preservation's role as an economic engine, should be the building blocks of a new future for Fort Monroe.
So while the future of the fort is being decided, we urge the stewards of this national treasure, both at the state (the Fort Monroe Authority) and the federal level (the National Park Service), to recognize the important role that our historic resources play in strengthening our economies. We urge them to seize the tremendous opportunity at Fort Monroe to preserve our history and revitalize our communities.