Historic Salisbury Foundation faces challenges, but has strong legacy

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 10, 2012

By David Post
As the former executive director of Historic Salisbury Foundation, I want to be the first to congratulate it on its 40th anniversary, on hiring a new executive director and on Whitney Wallace chairing October Tour this fall.
One year ago, on April 12, 2011, I attended HSF’s 39th anniversary. There, I met Cynthia Jenkins, the newly hired executive director, and talked with old friends, many of whom I had not seen since my career took me away from Salisbury almost 30 years ago. That night, HSF asked me to chair the 2011 October Tour.
When Cynthia resigned three months later, the board asked me to become executive director. The public reaction to Cynthia’s resignation, not about her but about how insular HSF had become, surprised me. In getting ready to lead HSF, I read the strategic assessment prepared by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2005. It had reported many of the same observations.
Instead of shying from the public reaction, I took it as a challenge and proposed a strategy to the board that included:
1. Create a concise and memorable mission statement, as Madison Avenue would, such as “History Lives Here” or “We Preserve History” or have a school contest to find one.
2. Raise more money. The community supported my efforts for October Tour and donated more than double, almost triple, amounts compared to each of the prior 10 years.
3. Become a better community partner by inviting myself to innumerable community events and civic meetings.
4. Handle and resolve several legal matters.
5. Help get the Town Well project at the Library on track after a stagnant year.
6. Celebrate our history, such as creating an annual event, perhaps a re-enactment with the schools, commemorating George Washington’s visit to Salisbury on May 30-31, 1791.
7. Work with local judges and lawyers — and the schools — each year to re-enact Andrew Jackson’s admission to the Rowan County bar on Nov. 6, 1767. (Every lawyer remembers that day.)
8. Reinstitute the eighth grade Rowan County Tour and name it the Brawley-Raynor Tour after Jim Brawley, one of Rowan County’s greatest historians, and George Raynor, a former editor of the Salisbury Post. During the 1950s and 1960s, all eighth graders enjoyed a full day field trip to historic sites around the county. Every student who did it remembers it. I thought the 2,000 eighth graders in the county should have the same opportunity and that I could find the money to pay for it.
9. Introduce a scholarship program by incorporating Rowan County history as a topic in the school system’s junior-senior project and granting at least one scholarship to a graduating senior from each high school each year. This would allow HSF to participate in every high school, every year, before thousands of citizens, giving something back. And it would provide the library with a growing archive of local history. I was confident funding could be found.
10. Since the Ice House will be 100 years old in 2012, have an ice cream party at that location for the entire city. Again, I thought the money could be raised.
11. Address the budget seriously. Online tax returns show that HSF has lost almost $800,000 over the past four years. Since HSF relies on the public’s goodwill for funding every year, it should be vigilant with those funds.
12. HSF has an impressive real estate portfolio: the Train Depot, the Hall House, the Ice House, Grimes Mill, 18 lots around the city, three houses listed for sale, historic covenants on almost 100 properties, and has a list of two dozen properties under consideration. Given the challenges of today’s real estate market, HSF needs a strategy to cover the costs. Although the History Channel did a great story on the beautiful M&M house on Park Avenue, the online tax return reports that the project resulted in a $100,000 loss.
Historic foundations nationwide, including the National Trust which recently closed all but two of its offices, are wrestling with strategic financial and operational issues. Since HSF can cover either the costs of operations or its real estate maintenance, but not both, I recommended that its operating and real estate strategies be aligned with its financial structure.
HSF faces challenges. But HSF has a strong legacy to build upon and a supportive community. With new leadership, my hope is that it adapt to the current economic reality, generate new ideas, reach out to the entire community and enjoy another very successful 40 years.
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Former HSF executive director David Post is a co-owner of the Salisbury Pharmacy.