This week’s edition of The Economist magazine has an informative article about urban revitalization in St. Louis. In a city with a turbulent history of racial segregation and housing discrimination, and one The Economist calls “one of the country’s most troubled,” the article describes signs of hope in the form of Millennial in-migration and successful educational efforts in the city’s most challenged neighborhoods. At the heart of these trends the article highlights a public/private innovation district named Cortex Innovation Community being developed—and thriving—in a formerly abandoned industrial area between Washington and St. Louis Universities.
The article describes scores of biotech, medical and scientific start-ups being nurtured by business incubators and other Cortex-sponsored efforts. What the article doesn’t mention—but we know because Cortex and its joint venture partner Wexford Science + Technology are long-standing clients of our firm—is that one of the first efforts in the district was the renovation of an historic warehouse building that obtained critical project financing from federal and state historic tax credits.
In yet another example of what has been repeated hundreds of times across the country for decades, historic tax credits provided risk-capital in the early stages of a multi-year project… and served to catalyze future development in its surrounding neighborhood. We are proud to have been a part of this pioneering project.
We believe that as the new administration and Congress begin to tackle comprehensive tax reform, they would be well-advised to keep in mind the value of federal tax policy in directing capital toward certain activities widely acknowledged to be in the public interest. Republican tax reform orthodoxy in Congress—especially in the House of Representatives—holds that removing incentives from the tax code means the federal government will “stop picking winners and losers” and will allow a purer market to function on its own in choosing where capital should be directed. The reality of our history in the last half century is that widespread disinvestment in many of our cities and small towns make early investment in revitalization efforts too risky for the “pure” market to stomach without backup from government. The historic tax credit has played a vital role in revitalization efforts all over the country, and should be kept in the tax code.