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Regressing on preservation

It’s difficult to strike up the band and hold a Main Street parade in any N.C. community to celebrate a state budget that doesn’t provide for historic preservation tax credits.
House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate Leader Phil Berger will tell you the preservation tax credits, which sunset Jan. 1, 2015, were inconsistent with a tax reform plan from Republicans. That plan is meant to spur economic development and level the playing field by lowering taxes and getting rid of loopholes for specific industries or business sectors.
But Tillis and Berger conveniently overlook what historic preservation has meant to economic development, job creation and the state’s biggest industry — tourism.
The numbers bear repeating. The N.C. Department of Commerce has said state historic preservation tax credits contribute $124.5 million annually to the state’s gross domestic product and approximately 2,190 jobs.
Since 1976, Rowan County ranks among the top five counties in North Carolina in its use of federal and/or state historic preservation tax credits. In North Carolina, the investment has been $1.4 billion; in Rowan County, roughly $28 million over the past four decades.
The state historic preservation tax credits came into being in 1998. Since then, Rowan County has had more than 50 income-producing and residential historic properties rehabilitated with the help of the state preservation credits — an investment of more than $21 million.
If not for historic preservation tax credits, the Blackmer House would not be undergoing its current restoration on South Fulton Street, nor would a contractor be poised to rehabilitate the former Bernhardt Hardware building on North Main Street.
Myrick Howard, president of Preservation North Carolina, says all is not lost, and he is actually encouraged the final bill makes a commitment to study historic rehabilitation and its role across the state. It directs the Revenue Laws Study Committee to conduct an economic analysis of rehabilitating both income-producing and non-income-producing historic structures, including historic mill properties.
The committee’s report to the 2015 General Assembly is supposed to examine the following:
• The geographic distribution of historic properties in North Carolina.
• The return on investment to the state of providing tax credits or grant subsidies to encourage and enable historic rehabilitation.
• The short- and long-term benefits of historic rehabilitation projects, including job creation and income generated.
• The impact on property values.
• The role of historic preservation with regard to downtown, commercial revitalization.
The N.C. Department of Cultural Resources and the N.C. Department of Commerce have continually presented this kind of information, so the study committee’s job should be easy. Legislators just weren’t listening this year.
Howard sees a silver lining. “In the past,” he said in an email to preservationists across the state, “study commissions have been immensely valuable to our efforts. The bills passed by study commissions have a much higher likelihood of passage because they have been vetted in a public process with legislative oversight. Members of these commissions end up being preservation advocates in current and subsequent sessions.”
In other words, historic preservation tax credits or grants will be a good idea again — when a new generation of legislators can take credit for them.
Until then, welcome back to the Dark Ages.

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