Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Critics Wary of Tax Credit for Historic Preservation `We'll Be Watching It Very Carefully,' Carnahan Says

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Critics Wary of Tax Credit for Historic Preservation `We'll Be Watching It Very Carefully,' Carnahan Says

Article excerpt

Before it is even on the books, some officials are worried that a historic preservation tax credit could strain the state's budget.

A bill passed by the Legislature on Friday authorizes tax credits equal to 25 percent of the costs of rehabilitating historic buildings. A last-minute change said developers "shall" be entitled to the credits if their projects meet federal criteria. Earlier wording gave state agencies discretion in handing out the credits.

Sen. John Scott, D-St. Louis, sponsored the change. He said developers must jump through many hoops to qualify, including getting their structure on the National Register of Historic Places or certified as contributing to a district's historic significance. "If you go to all these agencies, hiring architects and engineers, by God you ought to get the credit," Scott said. Sen. Wayne Goode, D-Normandy, favors the program but says the cost should have been capped at about $20 million a year. The way the bill is written, "it's an entitlement, and if we have requests for $100 million, we're going to have to pay for it," he said. Gov. Mel Carnahan said he, too, would have preferred the state have more control over the purse strings. "We'll be watching it very carefully," Carnahan said. "As good as this program is, we cannot let it be a raid on our budget." St. Louis business leaders lobbied hard for the tax credits, which could spark investment in abandoned structures downtown. For instance, developers proposing convention center hotels could use the tax credit program, said Richard C.D. Fleming, president of the St. Louis Regional Commerce & Growth Association. The long-vacant Gateway Hotel and the 24-story Lennox apartment tower, which is also vacant, could qualify, he said. Other structures that have been mentioned as likely candidates for the credit include the Chase Hotel in the Central West End and the Mark Twain Hotel at 205 North Ninth Street. Plans for the Chase include a luxury apartment building and commercial complex. The 90-year-old Mark Twain Hotel is being renovated as a low-cost hotel for people who work downtown. …

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