Why the Historic Tax Credit Matters: A Story of Rebirth and Revitalization in Ohio

By Special Contributor posted 03-17-2014 09:43

By Erica Stewart

As congressional tax reform efforts take shape on Capitol Hill, advocates of the federal historic tax credit would do well to familiarize themselves with the very tangible results of a program that has resulted in the revitalization of nearly 40,000 historic buildings while creating 2.4 million jobs and leveraging nearly $109 billion in private investment since 1981.

The National Trust recently partnered with Heritage Ohio to help tell the story of the credit’s track record in the Buckeye state—where more historic tax credit projects were submitted in 2013 than any other state. The report, which includes 10 in-depth project profiles and detailed quantitative data, is meant to arm advocates with very real evidence that the credit is truly a catalyst in two dimensions: First it enables historic rehabilitation projects by providing key financing; then the resulting project triggers neighborhood revitalization. 

In the words of Heritage Ohio’s board chair, Kevin Pape, the new publication features “wonderful stories of renewed use that simply would not have been possible without federal and state historic tax credits. The credits leverage private investment in places that matter and harness Ohio’s heritage to drive economic development where it is needed most.” Who could argue with that?

The report, The Federal Tax Credit – Ohio: Creating Jobs, Building Communities, Preserving Heritage, features the following projects among others:

 Photo courtesy Ohio Office of Redevelopment
The restoration of the Parvis Lofts in Cincinnati has served as a catalyst for additional neighborhood redevelopment. Photo courtesy Ohio Office of Redevelopment
The $11.8 million Parvis Lofts project in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood involved the rehabilitation of 10 dilapidated and vacant buildings that once housed apartments and small businesses in this historically German community. Federal and state historic tax credits helped create 32 market-rate lofts and nearly 15,000 square feet of commercial space. The impacts go far beyond the project itself: The Parvis Lofts have become a catalyst for neighborhood redevelopment and economic opportunity. The apartments opened to high demand, achieving full occupancy within the first three months. This project and other historic redevelopment projects by 3CDC, the City of Cincinnati, and others have improved the quality of life in Over-the-Rhine. Between 2004 and 2012, crime has dropped by 50 percent. And the revitalization continues: 3CDC is currently rehabbing an additional 19 buildings in the neighborhood.

The Mercantile Block project in Hamilton (pop. 62,000), Rep. John Boehner’s home district, shows the credit’s utility in smaller-sized cities. It enabled the rehabilitation of three commercial buildings located along one of Hamilton’s historic corridors that had seen all three vacant and threatened with demolition beginning in the 1990s. The City obtained the buildings and after a first redevelopment attempt failed, Steve Coon of Historic Developers, LLC, succeeded in converting them into apartments and office space. The project’s first phase of market-rate apartments was fully leased within three months of opening. The second phase added an art gallery and reopened a three-story atrium. The success of the Mercantile Block has encouraged additional rehabilitation projects downtown, including the Hamilton Journal-News Building and the Opera House, and has spurred the City to consider nominating the entire downtown to the National Register of Historic Places, which would open the door to greater historic tax credit use in Hamilton. The apartment has brought some 300 residents downtown, helping Hamilton become the second-fastest growing city in Ohio. Developer Steve Coon simply stated, “If the historic tax credit program was not available in Ohio, I would not have been able to save and develop the Mercantile Building.”

 Mercantile after_detail2
The Mercantile Block in Hamilton has been converted into  apartments and office space. Photo courtesy Coon Restoration & Sealants
With these projects fresh in mind, why not tell your congressional representatives how important the historic tax credit is to historic downtowns and urban centers? We’ve prepared a simple email that you can customize. Feel free to take this message to your representatives in person too. In the words of Renee Kuhlman, director of special projects, government relations and policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, “Dare to speak out loudly and frequently for historic tax credits.” We simply can’t afford not to.

Erica Stewart is public affairs manager at the National Trust for Historic Preservation with a career-long interest in how historic credits enable creative adaptive use projects.

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