Apex veterinarian Doug Meckes received nearly $800,000 in historic renovation tax credits years ago to rehabilitate the decrepit Apex Mule and Supply Building.
On Wednesday, Susan Kluttz, Secretary of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, made her first visit to Apex so she could see the building, which now houses five businesses in the heart of downtown.
Kluttz is in the middle of a statewide tour of historic downtowns as she lobbies legislators to bring back the historic tax credits that developers such as Meckes – and Kluttz herself – have benefited from. The General Assembly ended the program last year.
“I’m here because frankly, we have a crisis in Raleigh,” Kluttz told a group of about 30 town leaders, developers and local business people Wednesday morning.
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She will be in Fuquay-Varina Wednesday, Feb. 4, from 2-3:30 p.m.
She said she’s working with budget experts to come up with a compromise. She will propose capping the credits to avoid the budget being shocked by a particularly large project, Kluttz said, and is considering suggesting a lower rate than the 20-percent rate the credits used to match.
When Gov. Pat McCrory appointed Kluttz to the job two years ago, she said he gave her three tasks.
“The first one was he wanted the Department of Cultural Resources to focus on economic development,” Kluttz said. “And I don’t know of any better way.”
McCrory supports bringing back the tax credits, although Kluttz and others say he could have a hard time getting the General Assembly, especially the Senate, to agree.
The credits also are backed by the N.C. Metropolitan Mayors Coalition – a group that includes Apex Mayor Bill Sutton – which has gathered more than 4,300 signatures on an online petition.
Kluttz said every legislator she has spoken to supports historic preservation. But it’s a harder sell convincing them to add back a tax credit – and thus increase state spending – just after they passed widespread tax reform that lowered tax rates and state revenues.
“It is ideological,” she said Wednesday, although she added that both she and McCrory think this is an issue that can be separated from the larger tax debate.
“(McCrory) agreed to the tax reform plan but doesn’t think this should be part of it,” Kluttz said.
She urged the crowd in attendance to call local legislators and lobby for the credits.
“I think if they understand it better, they will change their minds,” she said.
Paul Levering, chairman of the Apex Chamber of Commerce board of directors, said he had never heard much about tax credits before. He asked if any buildings in Apex could still benefit from them.
Ramona Bartos, a state preservation expert traveling with Kluttz, said there are many options.
“We’re sitting in a national historic district,” she said at Wednesday’s meeting, held in the historic Halle Cultural Arts Center. “So pretty much everything within a block in either direction ... in the commercial and residential areas.”
Next door, the Meckes Building is a testament to what credits can help accomplish, Kluttz said.
When a building benefits from historic tax credits, the developer must adhere to strict preservation standards. Meckes, for instance, kept the original maple wood flooring, dating back to 1912, in what is now Lilly’s Home and Garden.
He also re-purposed an old mill piece for more pine flooring, and has kept other century-old features.
“That front door is still the original Apex Mule and Supply door,” he told Kluttz. “So it’s been here since the early 1900s.”
Upstairs, Moon and Lola employs around 20 people marketing the jewelry and design business, tapping away at computers underneath the building’s original arched ceiling.
“The ceiling, the rafters, are all original and exposed,” Meckes said. “So it’s a beautiful space.”