Statewide View: I can’t celebrate Minnesota’s historic preservation yet – Duluth News Tribune
Things look rosier this month for historic preservation advocates in Minnesota. Governor Tim Walz
h. The State Historic Preservation Office has released a new
defining the objectives for the next decade. And the legislature is about to extend the
which offers a 20% tax credit (often combined with a 20% federal tax credit) for rehabilitation costs of qualifying historic buildings.
Although the landmark House and Senate tax credit bills delayed this week – the House extends the program for eight years and allows the credit to be taken in one refund while the bill of the Senate makes the appropriation permanent but retains the current five-year repayment. allocation timeline – those of us who advocate the preservation and reuse of historic buildings have good reason to be optimistic.
However, this nagging Charlie Brown tendency that obscures even really good news has kept our celebrations in check. There are three reasons for this.
First, the House and Senate bills were to then head to the conference committee for discussion as part of a much larger tax bill that must be finalized by Sunday. These negotiations are complicated even under normal circumstances. Add to that a record budget surplus, the uncertainty of inflation, the war in Ukraine and opposing political views on taxation and spending, and we worry about the historic tax credit – despite being the
with broad bipartisan support statewide – will get bogged down in end-of-term politics.
Second, systemic inequities persist in access to historic tax credits, and this program has yet to reach some of the communities that stand to benefit most from its economic and cultural impacts, both in greater Minnesota and throughout the urban neighborhoods of our main cities. The repurposing and rehabilitation of historic buildings, many of which have suffered from decades of neglect, is difficult and complicated work. Finding the financial resources to undertake the projects is even more difficult. Historic tax credits are only granted after a project has been completed and commissioned, meaning that project developers need access to cash – and a lot of it – to cover design, legal, financing and construction costs for the first two to three years. .
Rethos is backing a bill introduced by Rep. Mohamud Noor, chairman of the House Workforce and Jobs Committee, that would provide grants to new BIPOC property developers, whether women or rural. President Noor’s Emerging Developer Grant Program would pave the way for more people from underrepresented communities to participate in historic rehabilitation projects. But it’s not included in the Senate jobs bill, and we’re not sure it will make it through conference committee negotiations.
Finally, demolition remains the simplest and cheapest option for too many communities faced with aging housing stock. Audience
— our labor taxes — go disproportionately to tearing down buildings rather than providing financial assistance to people who want to repair them and keep them in use. Although we can point out
, the true costs of demolition, in terms of lost opportunities and environmental impacts, have not been thoroughly studied and quantified. Recently, attention has focused on deconstruction as an alternative to demolition.
During this month of preservation, Rethos hosted a series of three-part webinars from d
to help people across Minnesota and beyond learn about strategies for keeping useful building materials out of landfills. Grants are available in Hennepin and Ramsey counties to help with the
but not for rehabilitation or adaptive reuse.
Assuming the historic tax credit is extended into the next decade, the Legislative Assembly will have done its part. It will then be up to Minnesotans to figure out how to make the historic tax credit work for them and their communities and how to keep more old buildings from ending up in landfills.
We should start by recognizing existing historic buildings as the unique assets that they are, focusing a little less on what has been and a lot more on what can be. Can empty schools be converted into senior housing? Can the second and third floors of downtown buildings be converted into apartments, providing another source of income for people who weigh keeping their local small businesses afloat compared to the costs of maintaining their historic building ? Can we accept the idea that ”
” while resources are dedicated to creating
The state of Minnesota has policies in place to do all of these things, but it’s up to people to use the tools presented to us to make our communities — and the buildings we inhabit — as strong and resilient as possible.
Erin Hanafin Berg is director of the Rethos Policy Institute, a program of Rethos: Places Reimagined. Rethos is a St. Paul-based non-profit organization dedicated to the historic preservation and reuse of old buildings.