Historic Preservation Workshop In May

May 5, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — An upcoming and unique event promises to give building owners and developers more insight into the historical renovation process.

A community-wide preservation workshop will take place on Monday, May 22, from 6-9 p.m. at Wealthy Theatre. Admission is free, it’s open to everyone, and the event will feature a special guest who will talk about something that is very near and dear to the hearts of owners and developers.

“The main speaker is going to be Robbert McKay from the State Historic Preservation Office to talk about and answer questions on the tax credits, and I know there are a lot of questions about that from commercial property owners, as well as residential owners,” said Rhonda Saunders, a historic preservation specialist with the city Planning Department.

“That tax credit has been used several times and is a very good tool for doing work to a building, both for the interior and exterior,” she added.

The State Historic Preservation Office was established in the late 1960s after Congress passed the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966, which required each state to create such an office. The main function of the office is to assist local municipalities in their efforts to identify, evaluate, designate and protect historical resources.

The agency also administers incentive programs that include federal and state tax credits. Although McKay works in the State Historic Preservation Office incentive section and specializes in federal tax credits, his focus at the workshop will be on state credits.

The state offers a credit worth up to 25 percent of a total investment that is made into a historical renovation project, which is 5 percent more than the federal program offers. So if an owner invests $100,000 into a qualified project, he or she can earn a $25,000 tax credit on a Michigan return.

The state program offers another advantage. Unlike the federal program, Saunders said the state offering doesn’t require that a “substantial” amount be invested in a project before an owner can qualify for the credit. So more owners are able to participate in the state program.

At the same time, though, someone who makes that substantial investment for the 20 percent credit from the federal program can also receive a 5 percent state tax credit for the same project. But whether it’s federal or state, the historical guidelines are the same.

“It’s pretty much what they would have to follow — for the exterior part anyway — even if they weren’t going for the tax credits, because they’re in a historic district. To qualify for the credits, you have to be in either a national district or in a local district,” said Saunders.

Believe it or not, Saunders said there are 2,500 properties in designated historic districts throughout the city. About half of those are homes in the Heritage Hill district, a residential area just east of downtown. The rest are residences and commercial buildings in the Cherry Hill, Heartside, Fairmount Square and Wealthy Street districts, and in portions of Monroe Center.

Those who attend the workshop will also be able to take part in a question-and-answer session with the nine members of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.

“I want to give faces to these people. There are too many misconceptions going around and I think it’s time that the commissioners got out there a little bit more so people will be more familiar with them and feel more comfortable with them,” said Saunders.

One of the more popular misconceptions is that preservation commissioners are paid by the city to serve on the panel, when, in fact, they are volunteers. Another is that they strive to make things as difficult as possible for those who appear before them.

“People tell me that it wasn’t hard. After they go before them, then they say, ‘It’s not bad.’ They’re people like you and they live in a district like you,” said Saunders, who added that the new preservation guideline book also will be available at the workshop.

Besides providing guidelines, the State Historic Preservation Office and the city’s Historic Preservation Commission also regularly honor the top renovation projects across the state and in the city, respectively. David and Barbara Huyser of Grand Rapids won a state award last year for their rehabilitation of the Eberling Building at 337 Diamond Ave. SE. Pioneer Construction, also of Grand Rapids, won the same state award in 2004 for its renovation of the former Berkey and Gay furniture factory and for its work on the American Seating complex.

The workshop is being sponsored by the State Historic Preservation Office, the Historic Preservation Commission, and by Bazzani Associates, a local builder and developer that has been honored three times by the preservation commission for its renovation work.

It’s not necessary to pre-register for the workshop. Wealthy Theatre is at 1130 Wealthy St. SE, near the corner of Wealthy and Fuller, in the Wealthy Street Historic District.    

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