Tax credits for historic preservation are vital

June 17, 2014 

The North Carolina General Assembly needs to engage in a little historic preservation, namely of a credit that gives those who restore historic homes and buildings a break on their taxes.

It’s simple, and it’s effective. It also makes good economic sense for the state. The state Department of Commerce estimates that the tax credits cost the state about $14 million a year but bring in $124 million in investments. In what world is that not a good deal for the state?

The state House backs extending but refining the credits, which are due to expire at year’s end. So does Gov. Pat McCrory. But some senators, following a rather odd logic about how ending incentives will lower income taxes for everybody, are opposed to the program. That’s economic nonsense.

The credit has transformed parts of Raleigh, from historic homes in the Oakwood neighborhood to downtown Raleigh buildings that have been transformed into restaurants. Greg Hatem, a Raleigh entrepreneur, owns a number of properties downtown and notes that the credit doesn’t help only individuals.

“It starts when you renovate a historic building,” he said. “What follows is you have office spaces and restaurants, and this creates active uses that bring a downtown back to life.” Raleigh is proof positive. That pattern has been followed successfully all over town.

Restored historic buildings also become living lessons for all residents of a community. They provide opportunities for parents to teach their children, for newcomers to learn about the place in which they live and to appreciate its history.

And this is no big-city break. North Carolina has historic communities all over the state that have benefited. Consider Siler City, where a high school built in 1922 was transformed 15 years ago into an apartment building. Before the tax credit, that school likely would have been torn down or become an eyesore.

The credit could be used more in places like Siler City or Pittsboro or Shelby or Asheville or Rocky Mount. North Carolina is, after all, one of the original colonies.

This tax credit program does no harm. One would think Republicans, fancying themselves the big business party, would embrace something that helps businesses and brings in revenue, even if they cared nothing about historic preservation. The tax credit is smart business, period.

Extending the credit will prompt communities from the coast to the historic pockets of the mountains to continue their efforts at revitalization. It will help to save downtowns. It will make money for individuals and for towns and cities. The tax credit should be preserved without hesitation.

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