Its that time of year again when arguably the most successful and cost-effective economic development incentive program offered in Missouri--the state historic tax credit--is under siege in Jefferson City.
By KEVIN COLLISON
The Kansas City Star
The State Senate approved SB 120 last week, a proposal that would slash the $140 million cap enacted just four years ago by 68 percent to $45 million, and forbid allowing the program to be stacked with tax credits from the affordable housing program.
Attempts by the Senate to gut the program have become as regular and tiresome as losing seasons for the Royals and just as dispiriting.
Theres been much said over the years about the incredible amount of good the state historic tax credit program has done. Its been the little financial boost thats allowed developers to revitalize dozens of empty, abandoned buildings in the urban core of Kansas City and other places around the state into thousands of apartments, lofts, shops and office space.
Without the program, many believe downtown Kansas City still would be a ghost town frequently after 5 p.m. The vast majority of housing thats been created downtown since its current revival began in earnest 10 years ago wouldnt have happened.
I think its been a wonderful tool, said Lindsay Tatro, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association. Its certainly led to a lot of revitalization of downtown Kansas City and brought housing, which has been big goal.
Statistics furnished by the Alliance for Investment, Jobs & Preservation in Missouri show that each dollar in state historic tax credits leverages at least $4 in private money. More than $6 billion in private investment has been stimulated by the program since it began in 1998.
Missouri is a nationwide leader in promoting historic preservation: How often has the state been a national beacon in recent years for something we can be proud about?
Every other state that starts a credit program models it after Missouri, said Elizabeth Rosin, an architectural historian. Its an economic development tool thats being penalized for its success.
Heres a brief list of a few buildings revived just the past couple of years with the programs help: The Union Station power house (1914), now the Todd Bolender Center; the Hanna Rubber building (1925), being renovated for Sporting Innovation; the Cosby Hotel (1888), being renovated as a deli and offices; the Gate City National Bank (1906) now a boutique hotel; the old U.S. Courthouse (1939), now 176 apartments, and the Nelkin-Piper building (1899), now home of Trozzolo Communication Group.
Projects on the horizon that will likely not move forward without the state historic tax credit include: Power & Light Building (1933), potential apartments; the Pickwick block (1930), potential apartments; the old Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City building (1921), potential apartments, and the Midland office building (1927), a proposed 68-unit apartment development.
In my view, the historic tax credit program has been the most successful economic development program the state has developed the last decade, said Jim Farrell, a lobbyist for the Alliance for Investment, Jobs & Preservation.
Farrell, who is from St. Louis, said the $140 million cap was the result of a compromise reached just four years ago, but critics keep harping about the amount of tax credits still being issued.
Rather than looking at leading the country in historic tax credits, we should look at it as leading the country in private investment in reviving downtowns and other places, he said. I challenge anybody to find another program with that kind of impact across the United State.
The other side of the equation not looked at by some in Jefferson City is the cost of leaving all those buildings empty and deteriorating. In addition to the social costs of crime, blight and other hazards, it often costs more to demolish a structure than the value of a tax credit that would leverage its revitalization and create a lot of construction jobs to boot.
And one other thing.
Oftentimes, when I write about the restoration of one of Kansas Citys landmarks I receive calls from older readers who share their memories of the place.
One of my favorites was the lady who called after the old Fidelity National Bank & Trust building reopened as the 909 Walnut apartments. She told me about how she and her friends climbed a fire ladder to the top in 1945 to celebrate VJ Day.
But renovating old buildings is not just an exercise in nostalgia, tradition and preserving the architectural fabric of our city. Its about the future too.
Farrell pointed out that urban environments so deeply valued by a new generation of young adults people Kansas City wants to keep and attract rely on those historic structures.
Were trying to create a dynamic in downtown for young entrepreneurs and young people coming out of college who want to live in a vibrant, urban environment, he said.
And thats one more reason Missouris historic tax credit program has been an incredibly valuable bridge between its past and future.