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Published: Friday, 5/16/2008

State pushed to fund stalled historic work

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS Ohio must first honor tax-credit commitments made to more than 50 historic preservation projects across the state before it changes the rules of the game, preservationists told a House committee yesterday.

It s scary that this is how the state treats our best hope for inviting the private sector to invest in the infrastructure of Ohio s communities, said Joyce Barrett, executive director of the nonprofit Heritage Ohio.

Do we really think that another line of developers will emerge when this is the tax credit that has been exhibited by Ohio? she asked. The confidence and trust has been lost. How is Ohio going to regain that?

The House Finance and Appropriations Committee is considering a $1.57 billion package negotiated by Gov. Ted Strickland and Republican legislative leaders that is designed to jump-start Ohio s sluggish economy.

Part of the plan includes incentives to create immediate construction jobs, including those rehabilitating often-vacant historic structures into residential, retail, and other tax-generating uses.

The package would earmark $120 million over two years to replenish the Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit program, a first-come, first-served pilot program that proved so popular that it ran out of money within eight months of its creation.

Thirty-seven of the first 39 applications through the door, all submitted on the program s first day, won approval for a total tax-credit value of $123 million. But that left 52 applicants with tax credits worth another $91 million waiting in line.

Among them is the 1884 Seneca County Courthouse in the heart of Tiffin s historic district. The building is in danger of being demolished as soon as this summer to make way for a more modern structure.

All applicants had to buy the properties they ve proposed restoring to be eligible for the tax credits. Five of those applicants have asked the Ohio Supreme Court to order the Department of Development to process their applications and fund them if they meet the program s requirements.

To qualify, applicants must prove that their projects will generate more state and local tax revenue than it will cost the state in credits.

As initially passed by lawmakers, the pilot program was designed to approve up to 100 projects. There was no dollar cap. But Mr. Strickland s administration retroactively applied a $120 million two-year limit on the program that was soon exhausted.

Rep. Peter Ujvagi (D., Toledo), a committee member, pointed to the $11.3 million proposed conversion of the old Standart-Simmons Hardware Co. warehouse at 34 South Erie St. in Toledo into 75 loft apartments as an example of a project left waiting in the wings. The tax credit would have been worth $2.7 million.

These folks are out-of-state investors [from Lansing, Mich.] who came specifically to participate in this program, he said. They bought the building and are now just staring at us trying to figure out what is going on.

The revised program would allow the state to pick and choose among applications based on their economic value.

Some committee members are talking about an amendment that would ensure that qualifying projects in the pipeline when the program was closed will be funded under the old rules before new applications are accepted under the new criteria.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com, or 614-221-0496.



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