State tax credit programs come in many shapes and sizes, but one commonality is the economic impact they have of bringing investment to historic cities throughout a state. Many of these cities have historic resources related to a period of industry that certainly once shaped the community but now sit abandoned. Repurposing these buildings is a viable and important path to reinvestment.
Another commonality is that state historic tax credit programs are often threatened from the beginning, as there is inevitably a debate between the dollars coming in as investment versus the dollars going out as tax credits.
Just such a debate has been ongoing in Wisconsin for the past year. Governor Walker proposed to cap the state tax credit program, which was just raised to an uncapped 20% program in January 2014, while the legislature has been working to preserve it in its current form. Since the program change, just 18 months ago, 25 projects have utilized the 20% credit resulting in an estimate of $480 million in construction spending and $88.7 million in annual operations according to a study done by Baker Tilly.
As consultants on historic rehabilitation projects, we often see immediate results on these state programs once they are signed into law. “Our Midwest Office noticed a surge in the volume of Wisconsin rehabilitation projects in 2014 and 2015 due to the new state credit, including more small and medium sized projects which may not have been viable without the added bump from the increased state credit,” notes MHA partner and Midwest director, Allen Johnson. “We are also seeing projects being undertaken in small towns and cities where previously our work was wholly in Milwaukee.”
The good news is that the Wisconsin legislature prevailed and the program will not change in the coming year.
Meanwhile another scenario is playing out in North Carolina where several tax credit programs, mostly targeted at the state’s large resource pool of historic mills, have been allowed to sunset despite showing a strong economic impact since their creation in the late ‘90s. Myrick Howard, President of Preservation North Carolina, noted in his recent op-ed piece for the News & Observer that “the revival of downtown Durham, Raleigh, Winston-Salem, Asheville, Salisbury, Mount Airy, New Bern and Edenton, to name a few, hasn’t been coincidental. Nearly $2 billion have been spent by the private sector, stimulated by this statewide incentive.”
Wisconsin is fortunate to have preserved its credit and will certainly have a competitive advantage when it comes to attracting developers, especially from another state in its region, Michigan, which lost its state historic credit several years ago. Developers that are experienced in using the historic tax credit programs are expanding beyond their home states in order to take advantage of these benefits elsewhere.
In a time of shrinking state budgets and less federal support, legislatures often look to “grow” their state budgets by eliminating historic tax credit programs despite several studies that show there is a positive return on investment from these programs. In addition to the construction dollars and jobs generated by rehabilitation projects, there is a long-term affect at the local level of taking a building that may have been completely off the tax roles and returning it to use, which generates increased real estate taxes that often funds schools or other local infrastructure.
Hopefully North Carolina and other states will follow Wisconsin’s lead in supporting programs that can have a significant economic at the local level while knitting back together the architectural fabric that makes these cities and towns whole.