The race is not yet over but the stretch run is turning out quite nicely for two local historic buildings.
After listening to presentations last week, a state board reviewing applications for Historical Resources Special Category Grants has placed Port St. Joe’s Centennial Building and Port Theatre at the top of the list.
As in one-two.
The Centennial Building project, a request for $291,154, submitted for a fourth consecutive year earned 94.22 out of a possible 100 to top the list.
The Port Theatre, submitted for the fifth time, earned 92.33 points as the non-profit which owns the theater sought $500,000.
That was good for second.
Both buildings are on state and national registries of historic places.
And both dovetail into an ongoing effort through the University of West Florida to create in the Florida Panhandle a federally-designated National Heritage Area.
There is a still a distance before the Florida Legislature funds either project.
The Secretary of State must approve the list as submitted by the state board that reviewed the projects, usually pro forma, and state lawmakers, during the legislative session that begins January, must appropriate funding.
As there is each year, there are varying opinions on the available revenue in advance of the legislative session.
That said, this is by far the closest either project has come to being funded; both were once ranked in the top 10 and funding ended just before reaching either project.
“It is hard to get too excited at this point, there is still a long way to go,” said Charlotte Pierce, Port St. Joe city clerk and president of the St. Joseph Historical Society.
“But, the Good Lord’s timing was perfect. If we had gotten the grant before (primarily to reconstruct the roof), whatever we would have done would be gone. Now, we have a new roof (via insurance/FEMA after Hurricane Michael) and this will be icing on the cake.”
Pierce also noted the presence of State Rep. Jason Shoaf, who stood with the groups presenting the cases for the Centennial Building and Port Theatre.
“I think it made a difference, the two groups showing unity and Rep. Shoaf (R-Port St. Joe) standing with us,” Pierce said.
Shoaf said he became involved with the projects shortly after his election to the District 7 seat.
He lobbied some members of the state board on the importance of the two buildings and their role in recovery from Hurricane Michael.
“The Centennial Building is the heart and the Port Theatre is the soul of the community,” Shoaf said. “Those two projects are so important as we rebuild and recover (from Hurricane Michael).”
He added that two members of the state board, after hearing full presentations last week, indicated they would move their point score higher.
“We are really excited about (the ranking),” Shoaf said.
The Port Theatre grant was one encouraged by state department representatives during an economic development exercise in Port St. Joe six years ago.
One of the group’s primary recommendations was to seek state grant funding to transform the building, which hosted the likes of Roy Rogers and many others in the day, into an arts center and an anchor for downtown Port St. Joe revitalizations.
The Port Theater Arts and Community Center (PTACC), a non-profit with a board of local volunteers, was created to shepherd that project, purchasing the theater from its previous owner.
With construction completed in 1938, the Centennial Building was a monument to the signing of Florida’s first Constitution in Port St. Joe, which had occurred 100 years prior.
The building was the fulcrum of a weeklong celebration upon its completion and has long been a pet project of Mayor Rex Buzzett.
Buzzett has characterized the Centennial Building, also known in the day as Constitution Hall or the Constitution Building, as a priority in preserving the city’s place in Florida history.
Buzzett revisited the project during the recent county legislative delegation meeting, urging support from Shoaf and State Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee).
And Buzzett was among those who traveled to Tallahassee for the presentation to the state board last week.