The Historic Charleston Foundation this month joined the city and the group of businesses working for the designation in developing an application highlighting a collection of almost 40 places of worship and public buildings in the city’s historic district.
The Charleston World Heritage Coalition will craft the application expected to run several hundred pages and which must be submitted to the National Park Service by January of 2016.
After a year, during which applications are often revised or polished, the Park Service can then send it on to the International Council on Monuments and Sites.
That group reviews the application before it can be sent on to the United Nation’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, known as UNESCO, which votes annually on World Heritage applications.
Charleston could be designated a World Heritage site in 2018, if all goes without a hitch, said Thomas Aspinwall, the coalition’s executive director.
There are 981 heritage sites worldwide, but only 21 in the United States. None of U.S. sites are historic districts and there are no sites in South Carolina.
The United Nation’s agency accepts World Trust nominations for both natural and cultural sites based on several criteria. One of them is “an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates a significant stage in human history.”
“That is the one that is really applicable to Charleston,” Aspinwall told the AP on Monday. “We have the accumulation of architecture that tells the story of American architecture over several hundred years but, as well, the cultures that built them.”
Researching and compiling the application is expected to cost about $1 million. But supporters say the designation will be worth it.
In addition to the civic pride of being designated one of the most significant places in the world, supporters say the label would provide a brand that will help draw visitors, attract businesses, and mean preferential consideration for preservation and other grants from public and private foundations.
The designation could also forge new partnerships for the preservation of the city founded in 1670.
During the months of preparing the application, Aspinwall expects new research will provide more details about historic buildings and the roles they played both in local and national history.
“We feel Charleston has the collection of buildings needed for this nomination process and we’re very hopeful the city will receive this designation which is so highly sought after and is such an extraordinary designation,” said Kitty Robinson, the president and CEO of the Historic Charleston Foundation.
The foundation is joining the effort to both provide financial resources and work to enlist other preservation groups.
Six years ago, the foundation helped Charleston update its 1974 preservation plan. At the time, it was suggested Charleston move toward seeking a World Heritage designation.