The Merrimon-Wynne House on Blount Street was recently restored using historic preservation tax credits
The tax credit homeowners once received from the state of North Carolina for restoring historic properties, and the credit for income producing projects could be back, in a simplified form, in this year’s budget, according to Myrick Howard, the longtime President of Preservation North Carolina.
Speaking at a panel of historic preservation experts, hosted by Raleigh City Councilman Bonner Gaylord, at the Merrimon-Wynne house in downtown Raleigh on Wednesday, Howard said Republican members of the state House listed restoring the tax credits, which sunset at the end of 2014, as their number one budget priority after a recent caucus. The House voted in favor of restoring the tax credit earlier this summer by a 5:1 margin. House members and the Governor have been working to convince the state Senate, which never put restoring the tax credits to a vote, of their importance to the state’s economy.
A legislative conference committee is considering whether to include the tax credits
in the final budget, expected to be released by September 18. Howard says a majority of the lawmakers on the conference committee are in favor of restoring the tax credits.
“We’ll know more in a few weeks, but there’s a good chance at the moment that the tax credits will be back,” Howard said. “I’ve got a good feeling, but I’ve been wrong before.”
The tax credits have generated $500 million in Raleigh since they were introduced in 1998, and $1.4 billion in revenues statewide. They have created more than 14,000 local jobs.
Panelist Ed Morris, chair of the Wake Historic Preservation Commission, pointed to the restoration of the Pine State Creamery building on Glenwood South as a Raleigh success story that couldn't have happened without the tax credits. The area experienced a resurgence after a group restored the building and in 1997 got it listed as a Raleigh Historic Landmark.
“From an economic perspective, historic preservation is essential to Wake County’s growth,” said Jeremy Bradham, a Historic Preservation specialist at Capital Area Preservation who was also on the panel. “Every preservation project creates four and a half jobs. Preservation engages everyone in a community, and gives back.”
The panelists also addressed historic preservation versus new development, the former being work-intensive, while the latter is materials- intensive.
“I don’t think you need to balance historic preservation with economic development,” said Mary Ruffin Hanbury, a Raleigh preservationist and architectural historian. “There’s as significant an economic impact with preservation as with new development, so they are actually working hand-in-glove.”
Howard said it is time for Raleigh to “get serious” about the tear-downs occurring across the city, and that the UDO, the city’s new code, does not address the issue strongly enough. He says the model of tearing down smaller homes and replacing them with giant new houses is unsustainable, since the single-person household will soon be the largest demographic in the country.
Amending the UDO and applying protections like Neighborhood Conservation Overlay and Streetside Historic Overlay Districts, which have demolition controls, to neighborhoods could be ways for the City Council to achieve this.
“We need twice as many historic districts as there are in Raleigh currently, and we need them to be less restrictive,” Howard said. “You don’t have to be as pure with restoring a ranch house than with restoring a Victorian home. But some neighborhoods have houses now that do not fit. They’re eyesores now, and they’ll be eyesores in the future.”
Hanbury added that aesthetics isn’t necessarily a good enough reason to decide what to tear down and what to keep. She pointed to the old Clyde Cooper’s barbecue restaurant downtown that was torn down last year. It was one of the last buildings in Raleigh to have separate entrances for blacks and whites to use.
“Places are historic because of what happened there, and that’s something people don’t necessarily know,” she said. “There are great opportunities to use these places to have discussions and share our community’s values, and for people new to the area to find out why they’re important.”