North Carolina needs historic tax incentives

by Daniel Schere

I usually try to stay out of politics. Issues like immigration, healthcare and the economy are complicated and require careful consideration from people on both sides. In those areas I usually defer to the experts. Yet there is one recent decision by the North Carolina General Assembly that makes very little sense.

NC House Bill 1224, the house version of the budget bill, does not include North Carolina’s historic tax credit program which was started in 1998 as a way to preserve historic buildings while putting them to use and encouraging economic development in previously sleepy areas. The program gives a 20 percent credit for buildings converted for commercial use, and a 30 percent credit for buildings used for noncommercial purposes. This comes in addition to the federal government’s historic tax credit of 20 percent, which began in 1976.

House Speaker Thom Tillis said he did not include the program because he thinks lowering the state’s overall tax rate is a more effective way to attract business and grow the state’s economy.

One need only point to projects like Durham’s American Tobacco campus, Winston-Salem’s Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, and Greensboro’s Revolution Mill. And don’t get me started on the redevelopment of the former RJ Reynolds building. At their press conference on June 27, the CEOs of two high-profile developers explained that the tax credits were a major factor in deciding on Winston- Salem as a location.

Between Guilford and Forsyth counties alone, there are more than 200 properties that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places- -a requirement for being eligible for the tax credits. I could list project after project that has been done with the help of tax credits, just as Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce President Gayle Anderson did when I spoke with her on Friday about how this might impact future projects downtown. She said there have been a dozen historic buildings that have been renovated so far using the credits.

“There’s a lot of buildings downtown that really have a lot of work that needs to be done on them and probably without those credits they’re going to sit empty for a lot, lot longer,” she said.

This is not a partisan issue. I n fact it has nothing to do with what political party you belong to. Virtually everyone I spoke to in Winston-Salem agreed that eliminating the program was silly. Gov. Pat McCrory included the program in his version of the budget and has been lobbying the House to reconsider their position. There is still a chance that the credits could be included in the final budget.

I speak as a proud North Carolinian when I say that this program has greatly benefited our state. It has brought tourists to areas of cities that weren’t on the map in people’s minds 15 or 20 years ago. Our economy is changing. The large manufacturing and textile industries are being replaced by high tech industries and small businesses that target niche audiences. People want to go downtown to places with a unique look and atmosphere. Practically every city in North Carolina has now realized that and taken steps to encourage people to live and work in their downtown. Putting historic tax credits to use has been one of those steps.

I fear that without this program a place like High Point may never become the vibrant, booming city that leaders hope it can be one day. Is that a message we want to send? Do we want to be the state that developers don’t want to come to because there are 34 other states that offer a tax credit for redeveloping historic properties?

Ultimately, this program accomplishes two goals. It honors our state’s history, and it does what is in the best interest of the people by helping to create jobs. I’m not sure why people would argue with those two nonpartisan objectives. !