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Preservation conference buoyed by news on state tax credits

By Mark Wineka
mark.wineka@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — People attending Preservation North Carolina’s annual conference in Salisbury Wednesday afternoon applauded several times when the subject of state tax credits for historic preservation was brought up.

At first, the applause came when Ramona Bartos, deputy state historic preservation officer, noted the tax credits had made their way back into the most recent House-Senate compromise of the state budget.

“It is a really important step that they’ve gotten themselves into that document,” Bartos said.

Later Wednesday afternoon, Preservation North Carolina Executive Director Myrick Howard reported even better news: The Senate, which had been a primary roadblock for the historic preservation tax credits, approved a budget with the credits in tow.

More applause.

“Now it’s on to the House,” Howard said.

As proposed, the new credits would pay property owners less than the original program, with an expected annual cost to the state of $8 million. The available credit would be larger in the state’s poorest counties.

Preservationists throughout the state have worked hard to preserve tax credits for historic preservation, which have been a major incentive in restorations of income-producing and residential historic properties since 1998.

The total private investment linked to the state tax credits since their establishment has been $1.7 billion, and they have been used in 90 of the 100 counties. But the General Assembly failed to override a Jan. 1, 2015, sunset of the tax credits on commercial and residential properties, leading to a massive campaign to have them reinstated.

Leading the more public aspects of that coalition effort was N.C. Department of Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Kluttz, former mayor of Salisbury.

This year, Kluttz visited 52 communities — representing 73 different stops — to make her case for the credits. Bartos said Kluttz’s efforts led to 1,500 different media reports, including articles and editorials.

“I think that’s really extraordinary,” Bartos said. Gov. Pat McCrory, also a strong advocate for the tax credits, was with Kluttz on 10 of those stops, including one in Salisbury when they visited tax-credit projects such as the Blackmer House on South Fulton Street and the Bernhardt Hardware renovation on North Main Street.

Beyond the strong coalition that worked publicly for seeing the tax credits reinstated, Bartos said, North Carolinians wrote thousands of letters and called on legislators. Also, Tony Adams, a lobbyist for Preservation North Carolina, went door to door in the legislative buildings, calling on lawmakers.

Bartos gave some examples of  the tax credits’ statewide impact in recent years. With income-producing properties, 48 projects used the credits in 2013, leading to $77 million in investment; 47  projects in 2014, representing $170 million; and 42 projects this year, closing out the tax credits. Those this year translated to $150 million in total investment.

Other examples of recent historic tax credit projects in Salisbury are the Lee Street Theatre on North Lee Street and the Hedrick Motors building in the 100 block of North Church Street, where the Bounce House has located. Both buildings date back to the 1920s, and each represents an investment of more than $1 million.

As for the residential historic preservation tax credits, the state approved 118 projects in 2013 worth $16.7 million in investment; 148 projects in 2014, representing $20 million; and 231 close-out projects this year worth $33 million.

The N.C. Senate passed a long-delayed budget bill on third reading 37-13 Wednesday. It now goes to the N.C. House. The 429-page bill spends more than $21.7 billion this year and a little more next year.

The budget is expected to by approved by Friday evening, and Bartos told her fellow preservationists she hoped they had something to celebrate Saturday morning.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mark.wineka@salisburypost.com.

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