$1 billion in economic activity generated by historic preservation

Tax credits, including tax credits for historic preservation, have come under fire from time to time.

However, a recent newspaper article on historic preservation states, “Preserving historic buildings over the past decade has, directly and indirectly, accounted for more than $1 billion in economic activity in Columbia and helped to create thousands of jobs…”

The Sept. 4, 2012 article in the Columbia Daily Tribune by Andrew Denney outlined the results of a report conducted by Developing Strategies, a St. Louis consulting firm.

The report is titled: Economic Impact of Historic Preservation in Columbia, Missouri. You can find it at: http://www.gocolumbiamo.com/Council/Commissions/downloadfile.php?id=6304

The report was sponsored by the Columbia Historic Preservation Commission, funded in part by the City of Columbia and a grant from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Historic Preservation Office.

So why do a study on the economic effect of historic preservation? Because it is hard to measure the importance and value of historic buildings. No one can measure the value of a masterpiece, and so measuring the economic activity generated by historic preservation provides one way to measure the value of Columbia’s buildings, masterpieces in a way.

The report includes a wealth of information and one of the most valuable bits of information is on page 45 — a listing of historic tax credit projects and the expenditures for the projects. Tax credits have come under fire, but people often fail to notice things of importance about such programs. First, money must be spent before a firm or individual can receive a tax credit. Second, in order to qualify for the tax credit, the person or firm must conduct the preservation to the set standards, standards that can be more expensive than simple renovations. Finally, it is a tax credit — that means the person or firm receives part of the taxes paid credited. It does not mean they receive money or funding, it is simply credit on taxes already paid. The company or person has to spend a great deal of money beyond the taxes credited.

The list notes that a total of $80 million was spent on various projects — and $15 million in tax credits were awarded. This means a company or person spent at least $80 million, while the state simply credited or forgave a portion of the firm’s or individual’s taxes for a total of $15 million. No money was given away, some taxes were simply credited.

Take a look at the report yourself and see what you think of tax credits for historic preservation.

You can also read the newspaper articles about it including two editorials, one of which is clearly against the use of tax credits.

Personally, I think historic preservation makes sense. The home of Annie Fisher, Columbia’s first black entrepreneur, was recently demolished and the land will likely be used for apartments. While the owners of the land have the right to do what they like with the land, the loss of the history is priceless. No where else can you point to a house and say that’s where a former slave built a catering company that drew people from throughout the county, where a woman with no education built a restaurant reputed to include place settings for more than 1,000, and a woman once owned by another person was honored at a state fair for the work of her hands, beaten biscuits. It’s hard to get inspiration from yet another apartment building.

And while many people will drive a long distance to see a historic building such as Mt. Vernon or Monticello, I’ve never once heard of anyone driving a long way to see a new apartment building.

Annie Fisher’s rise from obscure to entrepreneur might have seemed to some impossible; just as saving her home ultimately came to be, but perhaps tax credits can make the possible much more likely.




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