Historic tax credits saved to benefit of local buildings

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    CREDIT SAVED —The second-floor phase of the Norway Opera House renovation project is expected to use Historic Tax Credits. The credits were saved in the final version of the $1.;5 trillion tax bill that was signed into law on Dec. 22.

    REGIONAL — The federal Historic Tax Credit has been saved in the final version of the $1.5 trillion tax bill that President Donald Trump signed into law on Dec. 22.

    The future of several local area rehabilitation projects including historic buildings in Rumford and the Odd Fellows Hall in Norway, a privately owned building listed on Maine’s Most Endangered Historic Structures in 2013, had been in jeopardy following the House’s elimination of the 20 percent Historic Tax Credit in its version of the tax  bill.

    The final version of the bill was approved by the House in a 227 to 203 vote on Dec. 19  included the Historic Tax Credit after the Senate and House reconciled their versions.

    On Dec. 20, the Senate voted 51 to 48, along party lines, to pass what has been called the most sweeping rewrite of the tax code in decades.

    Officials at Maine Preservation sent Executive Director Greg Paxton to Washington D.C. earlier this month to advocate for the inclusion of the Historic Tax Credit in the final bill. Other members of the team included Stephanie Meeks, president, and Shaw Sprague, senior director of government relations, for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, along with Hoyt Massey of the National Trust Council.

    “As part of the complex overhaul of the federal tax system, Maine Preservation is grateful to Senator (Susan) Collins and Representative (Bruce) Poliquin who advocated so strongly to retain the great incentive for Maine provided by the historic tax credit,” Paxton told the Advertiser Democrat following the bill’s passage. “This prevented Maine’s historic towns, cities and Main Streets from losing an essential tool that has created 10,000 well-paying local jobs and 1,800 housing units, while raising $100 million in new taxes.”

    “The use of this incentive in small towns and big cities throughout Maine has sparked more than a half-billion dollars in rehabilitation investment in historic buildings in less than 10 years,” he continued. “We appreciate the hard work that went into retaining it.”

    The Historic Tax Credits include a 20 percent federal historic tax credit paired with 25 percent historic state credit for a total of 45 percent, which Paxton told the Advertiser Democrat last month was a “key element to the financing for these projects.”

    The tax credits have been a  crucial economic development tool bringing new jobs, new housing and millions of dollars into towns and cities like Lewiston, Norway, Bethel, Livermore Falls and other areas throughout the state.

    Paxton said previously that the move to eliminate or reduce federal Historic Tax Credits would be “devastating” to the economic development of Maine.

    The financially innovative preservation tool has allowed scores of historic buildings, including a dozen or more in the local area, to be redeveloped into tax-paying contributors in their communities.

    According to information from Maine Preservation, 94 Historic Tax Credit projects such as the Healy Asylum in Lewiston, part of Bates #2 Mill in Lewiston, the Norway Opera House in downtown Norway, the Lamb Block in Livermore Falls, the Gearing Clinic in Bethel and others have been undertaken since 2008.

    In Norway, the Historic Tax Credit was a significant factor in the successful $1.4 million restoration of the Norway Opera House in 2012, the anchor of the Norway Downtown Historic District.

    A total of $273,000 in federal historic tax credits and $340,000 in state credits was used to redevelop the empty first floor commercial front into vibrant and occupied business space. The redevelopment of the building has brought residents and tourists to the downtown Main Street, which in turn boosts other businesses, say officials.  It is also contributing thousands of dollars to the town’s tax base each year.

    The Norway Opera House Corporation is now looking at revitalizing the second floor of the building and Dennis Gray of the Norway Opera House Corporation said last month that the Historic Federal Tax Credit would undoubtedly be a part of that financing process, he said.

    A move to rehab the Odd Fellows Hall would likely take advantage of those credits as well, he said.

    ldixon@sunmediagroup.net