State could close a historical site it just paid to renovate

State could close a historical site it just paid to renovate

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by JEREMY MARKOVICH / NBC Charlotte

WCNC.com

Posted on March 21, 2013 at 5:26 PM

Updated Sunday, Oct 13 at 6:33 AM

PINEVILLE, N.C. – The state of North Carolina is paying to renovate a visitors center that could close to visitors this summer.

The James K. Polk Historical Site in Pineville is one of five historical sites that would lose operational funding in the budget proposed by Governor Pat McCrory Wednesday. The move would save a half-million dollars overall. In Pineville, two of the three full-time employees would be laid off, and the one that remains would be a caretaker.

But a few months ago, the North Carolina General Assembly gave the state-run site $130,000 dollars to renovate the visitors center, including the gift shop, exhibits, restrooms and lighting. The process began several years ago, said Keith Hardison, director of North Carolina’s Division of State Historic Sites and Properties. The legislature approved the money last year.

How could this happen?

Operational budgets are separate from construction budgets, Hardison said. “It does seem a bit interesting,” he said, “but I have worked for several state governments, and the process is the same.”

NBC Charlotte’s call to McCrory’s press office has not yet been returned, but Hardison said the issue was well known in discussions he had with other state leaders. “I know that occurred, because I pointed that out myself,” he said.

The site off of Polk Street in Pineville commemorates the birthplace of James K. Polk, the eleventh president of the United States. It’s also one of the state's least-visited state-run historical sites. It had 15,741 visitors between July 2011 and the end of June 2012; by comparison, Fort Fisher on the North Carolina coast had 437,774 visitors during that same time. The Polk Historical Site costs roughly $115,000 a year to operate, Hardison said. If the funding is pulled, the site could close July 1.

Hardison expects a shutdown to be temporary, and thinks it could reopen in the future if the legislature finds more money. The renovations are scheduled to be finished by the end of the year, and Hardison says they could be finished sooner if the site is closed to visitors. “It’s an interesting quirk of fate,” he said.

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