Preservation Boosts Downtowns

April 1, 2005
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LANSING — Preserving historic property not only keeps the footprints of Michigan intact, but also plays a key role in revitalizing downtowns and urban areas, experts and city planners say.

In addition to economic benefits, such projects lead to a better quality of life by making more resources and tourist attractions available.

In accordance with Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s Cool Cities initiative, promoting preservation as an economy-revamping tool will be the focus of this year’s Michigan Historic Preservation Network (MHPN) conference in East Lansing this month, said Nancy Finegood, executive director of the group.

Experts say financial incentives for taxpayers make the projects viable and popular.

The state gives a 25 percent break on income and single business taxes to owners rehabilitating their historic property for residential use. They also can receive a 20 percent federal income-tax credit for commercial building renovations.

State historic preservation officer Brian Conway said such tax-credit programs attract many people. According to MHPN, 205 projects costing $8 million qualified for the state tax credit from 1999 to 2001, while 611 projects costing $800 million qualified for the federal program.

Rhonda Saunders, historic preservation specialist for Grand Rapids, said tax credits have been a significant force behind the city’s success.

“Tax credit plays a huge role. We are moving toward people knowing about the benefits of historic preservation,” she said.

Conway said preservation projects also contribute to the economy by creating jobs, such as in the construction industry. According to MHPN, about 20,000 jobs have been created through the projects since 1971, adding about $80 million to the state’s tax revenue.

“Historic preservation keeps historic property that adds to the local economy,” he said. “It’s a great economic tool or driver.”

In addition, preserving older property stabilizes communities and helps property values increase, city planners say.

Grand Rapids, for example, witnessed a 1,200 percent increase in property values in its historic districts between 1974 and 2002, according to MHPN. Property prices in the city’s non-historic districts rose by half the rate over the same period.

Holland has experienced similar gains. City planner Karen Padnos said projects in historic districts have a chain effect on other areas and help them grow.

Finegood said the state has made progress over the last 25 years, but preservation is an ongoing enterprise with strong potential remaining for future initiatives.

Despite funding cuts by the state for two consecutive years, many grassroots movements keep projects rolling, she said.

“It’s one of the greatest tools they have. Today it gets a much broader recognition. People all understand how that’s important for the quality of life,” Finegood said.    

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