Preservation Advocates Tout State Tax Credits as Economic Boosters

By Smith, Craig | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, April 16, 2012 | Go to article overview

Preservation Advocates Tout State Tax Credits as Economic Boosters


Smith, Craig, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


When Jonathan Hill and his development partner took on a more than $10 million project to convert the former Fifth Avenue High School, Uptown, into 65 loft apartments, a federal tax credit for historic rehabilitation factored heavily in their planning.

"We wouldn't have done this project without it," said Hill, 52, of Mt. Lebanon, who purchased the school with Casey Steiner, 53, of Edgewood under the LMS Fifth limited partnership. "It's a great program for Pittsburgh ... a very useful catalyst to preservation efforts."

Lawmakers in Pennsylvania are considering legislation to offer credits against state taxes to developers who rehabilitate historic buildings.

The Senate this month approved and sent to the House a bill that would provide a 25 percent tax credit for commercial historic rehabilitation projects, capping the total credits available statewide at $10 million per year.

Those credits would piggyback on the 20 percent federal tax credit for historic preservation, which has been around since 1976.

The prime sponsor of a House version of the tax credit plan said he will support the Senate bill. State Rep. Robert Freeman said his proposal, which would couple state tax credit with grants for residential historic projects, would be hard to sell in these days of tight state budgets.

"The grant program would be tough to pull off at this point in time," said Freeman, D-Northhampton County.

Gov. Tom Corbett has not taken a position on either proposal.

"We are neutral on both bills but recognize they require further budgetary discussion," spokesman Gary Miller said.

More than two dozen states offer tax credits for historic rehabilitation. Belt-tightening has forced some to drop the credits or cut back.

Rhode Island, which began its program in 2001, stopped accepting new applications in 2008 after awarding $296 million in tax credits for 208 completed projects that brought in $1.3 billion in private investment.

"It generated more interest than the state tax base could absorb," said Edward Sanderson, executive director of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, which administers the tax credit program. …

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