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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Tax Credits

Waging the good fight again on the state level

In 2011, a group from around the state of Louisiana came together to advocate in support of Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits. This diverse coalition of builders, downtown development proponents, building owners, historic preservationists and developers made a compelling case in showing how the historic commercial tax credits improve a community’s tax base, return money to state coffers, create jobs and opportunities, save historic buildings and enhance property values.

The worth of these credits was proved then and is proved every time a vacant, blighted or underutilized historic building is given new life and put back into commerce. It is hard to believe the historic commercial credit is once again at risk, and the next two months will reprise the same 2011 battle in Baton Rouge. Word is things have the potential of getting ugly at the Legislative session, and the danger is that the really good, really beneficial HRTC will be caught up in the melee that seems almost certain to ensue. Swaine It is important to remember the Commercial Historic Tax Credit is not just a Shreveport issue; it affects every city and town with a downtown, historic or cultural district in the state. Northwest Louisiana will ally with New Orleans, Baton Rouge and other south Louisiana cities in supporting it. It is also important to note though Minden, Ruston, Natchitoches, Alexandria and Monroe have had commercial historic tax credit project successes, downtown Shreveport would be especially affected if the credits are lost or capped.

Why? Well, downtown New Orleans is bursting with development, and market rates can justify doing large scale projects without historic tax credits, though they are still very helpful. Downtown Baton Rouge gets a generous infusion of state dollars and is seeing huge impact from the state-funded IBM expansion, in which the state is paying for part of IBM’s new $30 million building as well as the lease and associated expenses for a decade. This project is considered a game-changer for downtown Baton Rouge and well it should.

Downtown Shreveport has no French Quarter and no IBM; our game-changers are developer driven and financed. A short list of projects either now underway, soon to be underway or in the pipeline – the Lofts @ 624 and two other buildings in the 600 block of Texas Street, the Petroleum Tower Lofts and the renovation of 509 Market – are dependent on the credits to make the fiscal sense needed to launch into a full rehab of buildings that in some  cases have sat vacant for decades. Other hoped for projects such as a transformation of the current Times building on Lake Street into other uses, development of the former Arlington Hotel, the iconic Uneeda Biscuit Building and potentially one day even the historic and beautiful B’nai Zion Temple, will all be dependent on the state historic credit. Without that credit and the stability and cash it brings to a project, these buildings and others like them will be less desirable, less marketable and, in many cases, more likely to become blighted.

What it always boils down to is cost. In new construction, you can estimate your costs pretty closely.

The unknowns in an old building make it all the more important to have some assistance in making the project make dollars and sense. Once rehabbed, however, these buildings contribute for years. They don’t up and move to chase another opportunity; they stay on the tax rolls and provide residential, retail and office space. The Downtown Development Authority, Downtown Shreveport Development Corporation and our many downtown partners urge the continuation of historic tax credits at their present level and ask for your support in asking local legislators to support them, too. The life of our downtown depends upon it.

For more information, go to www.downtownshreveport.com.

Liz Swaine is the executive director of the Downtown Development Authority. She can be reached at liz@downtownshreveport.com.

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