On a sunny Tuesday morning in Portland, a diverse group of nearly 40 people filled the lobby of PDT Architects' Dartmouth Street offices, all present to hear how historic preservation tax credits could be used for small projects. You've all seen the majestic mill buildings along the river, restored to their former glory, now housing families, artist studios and breweries. But what about a historic home renovated for offices and apartments, or the stately brownstone updated to house a neighborhood pub? Four panelists, a developer, a conservationist, a lawyer and a project funder came armed with answers to the questions presented to them.
Kevin Bunker, Principal of Developers Collaborative and Board Chair of GrowSmart Maine, opened the forum and set the stage for the morning. Currently 42 completed projects across the state have utilized the state Historic Preservation Tax Credit (HPTC) since it’s inception in 2008 and 31 more are in progress. Many of these projects, including Bunker's Gilman House in Waterville would likely not have occurred without the benefit of the tax credit. Beautiful old buildings across the state that would have fallen into disrepair or been demolished, instead have been updated to provide affordable housing, retail space and offices for new businesses, bringing much needed jobs to the state.
Amy Cole Ives of Sutherland Conservation and Consulting spoke about what is required for a property to be eligible for an HPTC and what the tax credits will cover. Requirements vary depending on the extent of original features and changes planned. Upgrading of systems such as heating and sewer to more efficient standards would be covered while repair of parking areas would not.
Christopher McLoon, a lawyer at Verrill Dana explained to the crowd how the credits work. Investors often "buy" the tax credits, providing the developer with the cash to complete the job. The investor then "owns" the majority share in the property for a period of five years, after which the property reverts back to the developer.
John Egan of CEI wrapped up the panel discussion with everyone's favorite topic – money. CEI is an investor in a mix of historic projects, both residential and commercial. John stressed the importance of a good team with experience in navigating the waters of federal and state tax credits. It's often a lot of work, but the benefits to the owners, investors and the surrounding community are ten-fold or more.
The audience continued the discussion well into the morning. It was apparent that many new ideas and new connections were well on their way due to the conversations started in that room.
Stay tuned for the next installment of GrowSmart Maine's Smart Growth Forums.