GrowSmart Maine Testifies in favor of LD 1661, “An Act to Clarify Provisions of the Historic Preservation Tax Credit”

Testimony of Nancy Smith, Executive Director of GrowSmart Maine
in favor of LD 1661,
“An Act to Clarify Provisions of the Historic Preservation Tax Credit”
January 22, 2014

Senator Haskell, Representative Goode and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Taxation.  My name is Nancy Smith.  I live in Monmouth and I am the Executive Director of GrowSmart Maine, a statewide non-profit organization working at the intersection of Maine’s economy, environment and communities.

I am speaking today in favor of LD1661 because it is vital to Maine’s economy, environment and our communities.  

The historic preservation tax credit (HPTC) is an important component of the overall financing for historic preservation projects.  The tax credit provides equity for a project; it is an asset, not debt.  Tax credits, paid out in the four years following certification and completion of the project, can leverage additional resources necessary for the redevelopment of historic buildings.  

You have heard from the developers and allied professionals who create historic preservation projects across much of the state.  You’ve heard of the impact of the tax credit through immediate job creation and overall economic activity association with the renovation of these buildings.  

I want to talk with you about the value of the state HPTC well beyond construction of these projects.

1.    The varied use of the buildings: housing, both market rate and affordable; businesses in retail and hospitality sectors, light manufacturing in North Dam Mill in Biddeford (Hyperlite Mountain Gear) and even housing a broadband hub to improve the economic potential of the entire region, as is planned in Dover-Foxcroft.  All of these uses strengthen the community and the economy.
2.    Impact on surrounding properties:  One of the basic tenants of economic development is that growth draws growth.  Properties surrounding these rehabbed historic buildings also become more desirable for economic activity, strengthening the entire neighborhood and providing significant additional tax base for the community.
3.    Reduces development pressure on open space outside of downtowns and village centers:  Because most of these historic buildings are located on Main Streets and in downtowns, the strong draw towards those areas pulls development pressure away from open fields and forestland, keeping those areas available for productive use in farming and forestry.
4.    Long term cost of government services is reduced when growth occurs within existing infrastructure.  Investments and management of transportation, water and sewer and other essential infrastructure are most cost-effective when focused in relatively dense areas such as downtowns.  

Just last November, GrowSmart Maine held our Tenth Anniversary Annual Meeting in the Atrium at Bates Mill in Lewiston.  The Atrium is located between Bates Mill #1 and #2, both exciting success stories of the historic preservation tax credit with housing, retail and restaurants and professional offices including Maine Community Health Options.  It is also a beautiful event venue.

Bates Mill #5 is a 300,000 sq ft building for which planning of a unique rehab and redevelopment is now underway.  There are strong leads for tenants including a health facility, educational entity, a downtown grocer, and perhaps even an indoor farm.  This project would result in new life in downtown Lewiston and employment for several hundred workers.

This is just one example of impressive projects in the planning stages, and LD 1661 will ensure access to the state tax credit necessary for projects to move forward.  The clarification in this bill is important because such significant work will likely occur in several phases and take perhaps five to six years to complete.   

GrowSmart Maine’s highest priority is supporting the historic preservation tax credit in its current form.    It is one of Maine’s most dramatic success stories, significant enough to be highlighted in our Ten Year Timeline of Smart Growth, unveiled at our Annual Meeting.  LD 1661 clarifies the availability of this tax credit for all qualified historic projects.