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Trust says historic restorations bringing sustained economic dividends

By TED CARTER

Three years ago, a John C. Stennis Institute of Government study concluded historic preservation in Mississippi does more than save old buildings.

Saving the state’s past, the Mississippi State University-based institute said, carries the time-honored American virtue of making money.

Specifically, each dollar of tax credits the state issues puts $2.45 into the pockets of workers and $1.25 into a local economy, the 2015 study said.

The Stennis Institute took on the economic impact analysis at the request of state legislative leaders who were struggling to decide whether to renew  $60 million in historic preservation tax credits approved in 2006.

Time since the study’s release has further cemented the economic value of saving the state’s past, says the Mississippi Heritage Trust, a non-profit preservation organization that led the charge in 2016 for a 5-year renewal of $60 million in tax credits. With more data expected to show the bang for the buck historic preservation brought through private partnerships, the Heritage Trust hopes the next renewal won’t go down to the wire as the 2016 one did.

By 2015, the $60 million in credits authorized in 2006 dwindled to zero. With no prospect of gaining tax credits that cover 25 percent of a project’s qualified costs, developers began putting their restoration work on hold or backing off projects yet to start.

The outlook on renewal turned so dim the Trust in October 2015 listed historic preservation tax credits among Mississippi’s 10 Most Endangered Places, along with such historic structures as the French Hotel in Senatobia, Margaret’s Grocery in Vicksburg and Phoenix Naval Stores Office in Gulfport.

Getting legislative approval of a $60 million renewal over five years, as proposed by the state’s Department of Archives and History, helped prevetn further deterioration of historically valuable structures.  But a lot of value also came from another outcome: Successfully convincing lawmakers that preservation puts new dollars into the economy, said  Lolly Rash, executive director of the Jackson-based Heritage Trust.

“It was a big deal for legislators to recognize the economic development tool that” is historic preservation,” Rash said.

“Absolutely, after the five years we will be able to show the economic development results.”

The bulk of those results, according to Rush, will come from projects in Jackson and other metro areas such as Hattiesburg and Gulfport and Biloxi. The Trust, however, is equally hopeful of building on the success it has had encouraging preservation efforts in towns like Greenville, Clarksdale and Columbus.

“We would like to see the credits put forth more on smaller redevelopment projects,” Rash said. “We are a state of small towns. We don’t have huge historic buildings all over.”

But it does have ample historically significant smaller buildings that could be good candidates for restorations or redevelopments of around $1 million, Rash said. Redoing those small buildings could become attractive with the $250,000 in state tax credits a restoration would carry, she added.

Financial help beyond tax credits would be a huge boost to small town preservation, said Chuck Rutledge, a New Orleans developer who has joined with Bubba O’Keefe and the non-profit Coahoma Collective in Clarksdale to rejuvenate the 95-year-old Travelers Hotel downtown. Rutledge said he thinks giving small hotels a sales tax rebate like the ones sometimes awarded large new hotel projects would help drive new hospitality and retail restoration around the state.

Often, a small developer doesn’t have enough tax liability to benefit from a tax credit, Rutledge said.  “With a lot of projects, the developer needs equity but not necessarily tax credits,” he said.

“That program should be revised to help smaller towns and smaller hotels,” Rutledge added. “Small projects can have a huge impact on small towns.”

In some instances, big and small projects create a strong synergy.  That’s happened on Capitol Street in Jackson with the King Edward Hotel and the nore recent transformation of  building across the street into the Capitol Art Lofts, Rash said.

“They are going to anchor that main thoroughfare,” she noted. “They are absolutely feeding off each other.”

The 2016 tax credit renewal caps annual outlays at $12 million over the 5-year life of the renewal. Any of the $12 million left at the end of the year disappears instead of getting rolled over to the following year.

But few, if any, of the credits are going to waste, said Todd Sanders, tax incentives coordinator for the Department of Archives and History. “I think a lot if it is getting used up. The big ones take most of it. It takes a whole lot to get to completion.”

Most Mississippi restoration projects rely on a 20 percent federal tax credit along with the state’s 25 percent credit. The difference is that the federal credits aren’t under an annual cap, but in Mississippi, when the $12 million is gone, there is no more for that year.

The state does not issue the credits until the developer reaches part three of the qualification process. That is the phase in which the developer must show completion of the specific historically based restorations detailed in the application.

“You have to make the investments before you get the approval,” Rash said.

Rash and developers of historic properties say they want the cap removed in the 2021 renewal. Otherwise, an inability to count on getting the credits will cause developers to shy away from restoration projects, she said.

“If all of a sudden somebody gets in line before them and the tax credit coffers run dry, it creates a great deal of uncertainty in the development world,” she said. “We’d like to see a way for developers to understand that tax credit is going to be available to them.”

Instead of Mississippi’s first-come-first-served arrangement, other states have review processes to let developers show why their project is more deserving than others, according to Rash.

Mississippi has largely avoided odd-man-out situations so far, mainly because restoration developers in the state keep up with each other’s progress, said Sanders, who brought a background as an architectural historian to his Department of Archives and History post.

If they issue does arise, said Sanders, “We feel we can work through it.”

A lot of good projects have been completed and more are in the works, Sanders said.

“They are going to be transformative in some places,” he said. “They are going to make huge differences.”

2018 Heritage Award winners

Heritage Awards for Restoration
Columbus City Hall
Clarksdale Fire Station
Starkville Police Department
Bolivar County Courthouse, Cleveland
Madison County Courthouse, Canton
Pike County Courthouse, Holmesville
Hinds Community College Administration Building, Raymond
Mississippi State University YMCA, Starkville
Millsaps Hotel Exterior Restoration, Hazlehurst
Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle Rectory, Jackson
Dr. Gilbert R. Mason, Sr. Medical Office, Biloxi
Rich Grain Distilling Co., Canton
Wier Boerner Allin Architecture, Jackson
Crosby Building, Canton
DANE Building, Canton
Merrill-Beasley House, Jackson
The Wierhouse, Brandon
Molly’s Place, Grenada
White Pillars, Biloxi
Wynne House Inn, Holly Springs
Fyke House, Jackson

Heritage Award for Archaeology
Moran Site, Biloxi

Heritage Awards for Preservation Education
The Mississippi Encyclopedia
Emmett Till Documentary Project
Blue Magnolia Films Celebrating Storytellers Bicentennial Project
The La Pointe-Krebs House Interpretive Museum, Pascagoula
Mississippi Department of Archives and History Two Mississippi Museums, Jackson
Biloxi Historic Cemetery Tour

Heritage Awards for Excellence in Stewardship
Mississippi State Hospital, Whitfield
Nancy and Bill Howard, Sedgewood Plantation, Canton

Heritage Awards for Catalyst Projects
Capitol Art Lofts, Jackson
Lofts at 517, Greenville

Heritage Awards for Organizational Achievement
Heritage Guild of Vicksburg and Warren County
Historic Ocean Springs Association

Mississippi Heritage Trust and Mississippi Department of Archives and History
Heritage Award for Excellence in Historic District Preservation
Mill Village Neighborhood Association, Tupelo

Heritage Award for Excellence in African American History Preservation
Jackson State University Mt. Olive Cemetery Documentation and Preservation, Jackson

President’s Award for Outstanding Restoration
Mississippi State Capitol Exterior Restoration, Jackson

Heritage Awards for Distinguished Service Jessica Crawford
Dr. Scott Crawford
Liz Ford
Barbara Ray Kidd

Heritage Award for Outstanding Achievement in Public Policy
Senator Thad Cochran

Libby and Al Hollingsworth Award for Lifetime Achievement
Ken P’Pool

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