LOVE SAVED THE HISTORIC PRESERVATION TAX CREDIT
OUR ADVOCACY WORKED because of MPA’s alliances with people like you who love historic buildings! A VERY BIG THANK YOU to all who wrote letters, emails, made calls to members of Congress, and signed our joint letter from Montana in support of saving the Historic Preservation Tax Credit (HTC). Our efforts combined with our powerhouse partners the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation Action, and many members of Congress, helped retain the 20 percent credit for rehabilitating income-producing historic buildings. Hooray!
The HTC had been threatened for about five years, and the issue came to a head in November 2017 when the first iteration of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act proposed repealing the credit all together. After some back and forth in Congress, the amendment—offered by Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and cosponsored by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; Pat Roberts, R-Kan.; Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; and Tim Scott, R-S.C.—was accepted. We especially thank Senator Steve Daines, R-MT, for working with the leadership to support protection for the HTC.
The program was revised slightly to offset future costs, requiring that the HTC be taken in phases over five years instead of in its entirety the year a rehabilitated building is completed. Though this change slightly devalues the tax credit, the Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that phasing the HTC reduces the cost of the program by approximately $2 billion over 10 years.
MPA is so proud of all the efforts made to save this valuable program and the strong response from people who know historic preservation is an economic driver. According to an article on the National Trust website, nearly 13,000 people took action, sending more than 40,000 letters to Congress—the most responses ever to an advocacy action on the Trust’s website. The campaign reached more than 3.5 million people through social media, generated 228 media stories and nearly 480 million media impressions during the last three months. And our very favorite part, the video of President Ronald Reagan championing the HTC back in the 1980s, has been viewed more than 475,000 times across multiple platforms. If you missed it, or just want to watch again, here it is.
Thank you again to all who advocated for the HTC. We hope that preservationists in MT see this as more than just a milestone in our efforts to fund preservation at the national level, but also as a stepping stone to boost support for preservation at the local and state level.
Here's the letter we sent to our Congressional delegation and Secretary Ryan Zinke.
This month, at the 10th Annual Montana Downtown Conference in Great Falls, business district representatives from every corner of Montana gathered to discuss successful economic development projects that are revitalizing our communities. One important development tool used widely in Montana is the federal historic tax credit (HTC). Given the Department of Interior’s role in jointly administering this program with the Department of the Treasury, we urge your support for continuing this long-standing and successful preservation and community revitalization program as efforts to reform our nation’s tax code move forward.
Between 1990 and 2016, the federal HTC was used to rehabilitate over 70 historic Montana buildings, creating 1,410 local jobs, increasing property values and boosting the local tax base. The U.S. Treasury's $14.5 million in tax credit incentives during this time period leveraged $73 million in private investment and returned almost $14.6 million in taxes paid. In other words, this is one tax credit that pays for itself.
Nationally, the same holds true. Research conducted for the National Park Service by Rutgers University's Center for Urban Policy Research shows that since 1981, the HTC has leveraged more than $131 billion in investment, created more than 2.4 million jobs, and rehabilitated over 42,293 historic buildings. Roughly $25.2 billion in tax credits has generated more than $29.8 billion in federal income taxes.
In Montana, most buildings in our commercial districts are historic; and the HTC is the one source of significant, reliable funding to help investors bridge the gap between what a bank will lend and what a project will cost. This is a tool that Montana developers and business owners must have to make investments in historic downtown properties viable.
As Montanans we are proud of the iconic buildings that make our communities distinctive. If Congress eliminates the HTC, we fear for all Montana towns, but particularly for struggling rural communities working hard to attract new businesses and new residents.
Montana is full of HTC success stories. In 71 projects over 27 years, the HTC has sparked investment across Montana, saving Ft Benton’s Grand Union Hotel, Great Falls’ Arvon Block and Whitehall’s Borden Hotel. In Billings, 10 historic tax credit projects combined to spark a downtown arts & culture district renaissance. At Fort Harrison, tax credits are now making it possible to transform 14 historic buildings into housing for homeless veterans... And the list goes on.
A few highlights:
- Billings: In the last three decades, historic tax credit projects have revitalized blighted buildings from South Side warehouses to the Babcock Theater and the Montana Power Company building. This has transformed the downtown from a place of empty storefronts to a vibrant urban neighborhood buzzing with loft apartments, coffee shops, museums, theaters and hotels.
- Great Falls: The Arvon Block, built in 1890 by pioneer rancher Robert Vaughn, was slated for demolition and replacement by a parking lot. Local veterinarian Peter Jennings came to the rescue and invested almost $7 million in rehabilitation costs. The building is now a great success story – the 33-room Arvon Hotel and Celtic Cowboy Pub, employs 40 local residents, attracts hundreds of visitors to downtown Great Falls each week, and contributes over $2 million annually to the local tax base.
- Butte: The 1910 Sears Building was originally the annex to Hennessey’s Department Store, one of Montana’s most opulent commercial buildings. After twenty years of vacancy, the building was revived through a tax credit project, to become a thriving neighborhood grocery and an anchor building that has stabilized Uptown Butte.
- Beyond these cities, we see investors in Shelby, Lewistown, Roundup, Anaconda, Dillon, Laurel and Townsend in pursuit of tax credits to finance new breweries, apartments, hotels, visitor centers and more. The HTC is key to many small town efforts to turn their economies around.
The National Park Service is provides strong stewardship of this key incentive. In fact, support for the federal HTC goes back to President Ronald Reagan and his historic 1986 reform of the tax code. Across the years, the federal HTC has proven itself a powerful incentive for private interests to do public good. It is a model of what a public-private partnership should be - one that doesn't rely on the federal government to shoulder the burden of the cost.
As Secretary of the Interior, your voice is important in the debate about whether the federal historic tax credit remains in a reformed tax code. Providing leadership to retain and enhance the federal HTC is one of the most important actions you can take, to ensure downtowns in Montana and throughout the nation have the tools needed to attract private investment, create jobs, and preserve the character of our historic communities.
Thank you for carrying our hopes and a Montana perspective to Washington, DC.