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MotorCities National Heritage Area under risk of defunding in proposed federal budget

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The Ford Piquette Avenue plant, one of the beneficiaries of the MotorCities National Heritage Area. Photo courtesy

A decades-long effort to preserve some of southeastern Michigan’s most significant remaining automotive landmarks and historical sites may soon be forced to cease operation under severe funding cuts proposed in next year’s federal budget.

The MotorCities National Heritage Area, founded in 1998, exists to “inspire residents and visitors with an appreciation for how the automobile changed Michigan, the nation, and the world” and to “encourage revitalization through conservation and preservation,” according to its stated mission. In addition to grants for preservation projects such as the Cherry Hill Ford factory renovation and restoration work on the Henry Ford Estate in Dearborn, MotorCities also provides support for educational programs at the Automotive Hall of Fame and for the park commemorating the 1932 Ford Hunger March.

As one of the 49 National Heritage Areas across the country affiliated with the National Park Service, the MotorCities National Heritage Area is eligible for federal grants in addition to revenue from donations and other sources. However, the proposed $1.6 billion in cuts to the budget of the Interior Department – which oversees the National Park Service – includes the elimination of the entire National Heritage Area grant budget of $20 million.

In a letter to supporters, MotorCities National Heritage Area Executive Director Shawn Pomaville said that the organization “has been targeted for elimination” under the 2018 budget cuts.

“As the coordinating entity of the heritage area, MotorCities has helped Michigan preserve our important auto and labor past, while helping our current economy prosper through revitalization and increased heritage-related tourism,” she wrote in the letter. “MotorCities National Heritage Area Partnership provides an outstanding example of how to leverage taxpayer investment with public and private resources, something the (2018) budget specifically calls for.”

According to Pomaville, the return on investments from MotorCities over the years has averaged $5 to every $1 spent.

Oklahoma Representative Steve Russell, who supported the National Heritage Area cuts with a bill (H.R. 1768) he proposed last month, claimed in a press release that “this program is not about preserving history, but rather has become an ‘earmark’ in a Trojan Horse. National Heritage Areas (NHAs) are large segments of land that are generally not owned by the federal government, and yet receive numerous grants that are not available to the rest of the country.” No National Heritage Areas exist in the state of Oklahoma. H.R. 1768 has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.

In its 2015 annual report, the latest available on its site, MotorCities cites a study that determined the organization’s activities – which have supported more than 220 programs over 18 years – have generated more than $410 million in economic impact, supported more than 4,500 jobs, and led to tax revenues of more than $35 million. About 40 percent of the organization’s $1.3 million in revenue in 2015 – almost $507,000 – came from National Park Service grants.

“By linking together the largest concentration of automotive and labor related sites in the world, we are bolstering an important sense of pride and positively impacting our region’s future,” MotorCities noted in the annual report.

The MotorCities National Heritage Area covers 10,000 square miles over parts of 16 counties, an area that includes hundreds of museums, factories, historic homes, motorsports venues, car shows, and other locations and events of importance to automotive history. For more information on the MotorCities National Heritage Area, visit