DULUTH — Time is running out for a statewide redevelopment tool that helps to repair and renovate historic properties, effectively preserving rich pieces of our past.
Minnesota’s historic tax credit was created in 2010 during the “Great Recession” to help put people to work while also saving important and historically significant buildings. The successful program was renewed once but is now set to expire on June 30.
That is, unless the Minnesota Legislature renews it again.
Lawmakers actually can go a step further than that this winter. They can vote to make the tax credit permanent. It has more than proven its worth.
"This program plays an important role not only in preserving historically significant places and buildings for communities, but it also plays a role in helping with the housing crisis that we hear so much about all over, urban and rural, and also with the challenge of responding to climate change," said Amy Spong, director of the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office. "Rehabilitating existing buildings is keeping materials out of landfills. And also rehabbing buildings uses less material, more labor, so the job numbers that have been noted over the life of the program have been really strong."
Strong? The numbers have been downright impressive. Last year, despite the pandemic, the historic tax credit led to $176.5 million worth of economic activity, including $49.8 million in wages paid to workers. For every dollar Minnesota spends in the program, an impressive $9.52 in economic activity results.
And some great old structures get to continue telling Minnesota’s story. In Duluth, the saved-buildings list includes architect Oliver Traphagen’s house on East Superior Street; the former Hotel Duluth, now the Greysolon Plaza; the old YWCA building, now known as Gimaajii-Mino-Bimaadizimin; Duluth’s old City Hall on East Superior Street; the commanding hilltop Munger Terrace on Mesaba Avenue; the domed Carnegie Library on West Second Street; and the NorShor Theater on East Superior Street.
The futures of at least three other historic structures in Duluth may depend on the fate of the state historic tax credit: The St. Louis County Jail, a part of the Daniel Burnham-designed Civic Center downtown; Historic Old Central High School on East Second Street, the behemoth brownstone that’s perhaps Duluth’s most commanding skyline landmark; and the Armory on London Road, where young Bob Dylan found inspiration at a Buddy Holly performance, all are poised for history-preserving redevelopment.
The good news for them and other significant structures, "There really isn't anybody at this point advocating against” making the state tax credit program permanent, according to Tom Hanson, the attorney leading the lobbying for it in St. Paul.
It likely would have been taken care of last year, had COVID-19 not hijacked everything mid-session. The tax credit was far from the only measure derailed and pushed off while lawmakers concentrated on addressing the pandemic.
It’s back this year with renewed bipartisan support. And bills already have been introduced in both the DFL-controlled Minnesota House and Republican-majority Senate.
The state historic tax credit, especially when combined with the federal historic tax credit — both can cover up to 20% of project costs — has shown itself invaluable, often providing just the financing to make a dreamed-about projects a reality.
“So many projects are just waiting to happen," Natascha Weiner, a historical architect for the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office, said in the News Tribune report.
With the availability of a permanent state tax credit, many more projects can get done, each one putting Minnesotans to work, stimulating local economies, and saving precious pieces of our past.
This other view is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, the Duluth News Tribune.