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Street Talk

Mississippi Heritage Trust (MHT) is the state arm of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Main Street is also part of the National Trust. How it all fits together is a convoluted flow chart. I don’t think anyone really knows the details, but the important thing is we’re all on the same page – building huggers. 

Several years ago, MHT held their state-wide conference in the Valley. It was a big deal, as places our size usually don’t get that kind of attention. Frankly it’s easy to dismiss us on size alone. But we punch above our weight class here in Water Valley and MHT’s faith in the Valley and going out on a limb proved we could handle it just fine – and have a great time while at it.

I made this snide remark about being building huggers but hear me out, every place has a defining layout, defining structures, and location specific terrain. Just the saving of buildings, the hugging of them, is important but is not the only priority. Buildings were meant for people to be in, either as a home, place of commerce, or place to gather. That’s why we save buildings and don’t knock them down, they define us. When they’re put to the best and highest use, everyone prospers. So, this preservation angle is really about prosperity.

To that end, the combining of preservation and prosperity, MHT has been working on a program they call the “Preservation Toolkit”. It is an approach of how to look at bringing buildings back to economic life and not being just empty structures. How to do the math in buying, renovating, and using a building. How federal and state historic tax credits for rehabilitation of structures work. How to work with banks and contractors and local governments. 

MHT has been doing all these things (and the WVMSA, too) for some time, but now they’re taking this all on the road this year in  four towns across Mississippi; Columbus, Jackson, Oxford, and Vicksburg.

 The Oxford one is like now, this week. Wednesday afternoon is the discussion for the historic tax credits and the framework for those is the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for rehabilitation. 

 The goal is for buildings to keep their historic character, yet freshened, and make them work like a new building. All the things that take that, the materials and manpower, qualify for the tax credit. The federal and state credits combined are 45 percent of the renovation costs. I’ll throw out a ball park number, that’s about $75,000 for an average Main Street building. Of course, you don’t have to get that money back, if money doesn’t matter. You can do what you want. But the proper preservation effort is not a real burden, if you’re doing a good job in the first place, then most renovations easily meet the tax credit standards.

 This Thursday morning is a session about the fundamentals of financing. Not everybody with a good idea, proper motivation or plain old desire to do a building right can write a check. And for that you need financing. Historic properties are a slightly different deal, as the purchase price is often only a third of the total final fixed price. 

Banks have to understand that and you need to know how they think. We’re very lucky in this town as the local lending institutions have hands on expertise and know the value and potential of historic properties.

If any of this interest you at all, check out the Mississippi Heritage Trust website at mississippi There is no charge for attending, just the courtesy of registering and letting them know you’re coming.

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