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Street Talk

D.C. Visit For Preservation Advocacy Week Included Mix Entourage From MS

I wrote in last week’s column I was in Washington D.C. on March 14 and 15 for Preservation Advocacy Week on Capitol Hill. People from all over the country came, about a dozen people from Mississippi. In the Mississippi crew were staff from Mississippi Heritage Trust, preservation based developers like Mark Castleberry from Columbus, Main Street directors like yours truly, and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.  So you can imagine it was quite a mixed looking entourage walking the halls of Congress.

The Girl Scouts were delivering cookies as a bribe to our elected officials. It worked! If you’re ever going to lobby on the Hill, bring kids and cookies. The Scouts were there as they are part of a start up effort to get Scouting more involved with preservation.

In a trial run of this effort early this year in Water Valley, working with Water Valley resident and historic masonry expert John Beaty, Scouts learned how bricks and mortar were used in older buildings and applied coats of plaster over repaired brick walls. They seemed to like the work, learned the ins and outs of older buildings, and hopefully more Scouts will have these hands on experiences in the future. We asked our congress people when they’re back in their districts to come visit these projects. They said, “Yes.”

The bill we all were advocating for is the Federal Historic Tax Credit Improve-ment Act. As I mentioned last week, all of the Mississippi congressional delegation have signed on to the bill and our two senators are co-sponsors of the bill. That’s a big deal. 

Here’s the effect the current act has had. President Reagan signed the current preservation act into law in 1981 and since then it has led to $120 Billion (yes that’s billion with a B) in private investment in the return of 41,270 vacant or near vacant building to the tax rolls – Meaning job creating 2.3 million jobs back in our large and small downtowns. That is an infrastructure redoing, job creating, tax roll gaining, and community building effect. Hard to beat.

Here’s how a tax credit works, the person doing the fixing must first renovate to a certain standard, there is no up front money, not a dime. Only after finished if the renovation meets the standard, does the credit get issued. For most small town renovations, the credit is then applied against federal owed taxes over several years. 

This bill before Congress now makes some slight adjustments to the law learned over 36 years of use. It makes the law even more small town and small business friendly (it was already). We hope this will spur more downtown economic activity. The Congressional Budget Office has looked at the bill and projected, if passed, zero cost to taxpayers – just like it has been a net zero cost the last 36 years. It’s a win-win for everyone and it that’s pretty rare these days.

There’s a lot talk about tax reform now in Washington. It seems to me that the preservation tax credits are one tax incentive targeted to downtown that have really made money, brought real jobs and private investment and lasting economic strength back to our Main Streets.

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