By Brooks McCabe
Republished from the State Journal at http://www.theet.com/statejournal/historic-preservation-is-a-major-opportunity-in-w-va/article_63897cca-e357-5fa4-b357-65712081052b.html
There is a renewed interest in increasing West Virginia’s historic rehabilitation tax credit from 10 percent to 25 percent. The suggestion has considerable merit, even given the state’s current dire financial situation.
The state is redefining itself as a diversified economy supported by a high quality of life rooted in the natural splendor of its mountains, streams and valleys, accentuated by historic downtowns with a size and scale of communities making it Almost Heaven. West Virginia is in the middle of learning to live within its means. The current fiscal crisis is front and center; it must be dealt with immediately, as painful as it might be. However, everyone also agrees the long-term solution to West Virginia’s woes is to significantly grow a diversified economy and the jobs that go along with it. The end game is more and better jobs; the state’s fiscal shortfalls will be lessened accordingly. It is further agreed that state government’s role is not to create jobs, but to provide a regulatory and tax structure that strongly encourages private-sector investment and job creation. This is exactly what a well-conceived historic rehabilitation tax credit program can and will do.
Revitalize West Virginia’s Downtowns is a broad-based coalition including, among many others, the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia, the Abandoned Property Coalition and the West Virginia Economic Development Council. The goal of this group is to encourage the Legislature to increase the historic rehabilitation tax credit from 10 percent to a more competitive rate of 25 percent. The coalition believes this will spur private investment, create jobs, repurpose vacant and underutilized buildings and provide the state with a positive return on its investment. There is considerable data being developed that confirms these outcomes. Stephanie Meeks, president and chief executive officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, has written a book titled “The Past and Future City,” which speaks directly to the opportunities and outcomes afforded from the rehabilitation of historic buildings. She documents real economic and job creation benefits from renovating and repurposing historic properties.
The framework is in place for West Virginia to make these suggested outcomes a reality. There are 92 commercial and mixed-use registered historic districts in the state. Morgantown’s Wharf District, the Wheeling National Heritage Area, Charleston’s Village District, Fayetteville and Lewisburg are but a few of the successful illustrations of what historic preservation can do for tourism, economic development and jobs creation in general. But the potential is much more dramatic if the historic rehabilitation tax credit is brought into central focus. The Eastern Panhandle has been an engine of economic growth for the state. Historic properties and downtown redevelopment have been a significant part of the resurgence. But most of the growth has been in new construction and subdivisions dotting the rural landscape. This has created a division between those in favor of growth verses those desiring slower growth.