Newly-Permanent State Historic Tax Credit Makes Downtown Revitalization Easier

BY TAYLOR BENNETT, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY-BASED POLICY

This year, West Virginia became one of only a handful of states that have made their State Historic Tax Credit (SHTC) permanent. The SHTC helps make the rehabilitation of historic properties, many of which are in rural downtowns, more financially viable.

So, how are property owners in small towns using the SHTC to revitalize downtowns in the mountain state? We talked to Dustin Smith and Emily Wilson-Hauger of Woodlands Development Group and Mike Gioulis, a Historic Preservation Consultant to find out. Dustin, Emily, and Mike were part of a team of folks who used the SHTC to rehabilitate the Golden Rule Building in downtown Belington, and have worked on countless projects like this across the state. Here’s what they had to say:
 

We’ve seen how the State Historic Tax Credit can be helpful in West Virginia’s larger cities. Can the credit be useful for redevelopment in smaller communities? Can you give an example?

Dustin: The SHTC can be used anywhere, really. The Golden Rule building in Belington is a great example. Belington is close to as small as it comes, so if it can work there, it can work anywhere. It’s also an example of a project in a rural town that wouldn’t have happened without the SHTC.

Mike: Yeah, the difficulty in small towns is that projects are smaller, so they don’t attract investors like large developments would, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. In order to use the credit, property owners have to have an active financial interest in the property. This means that in small towns, the tax credit could be particularly useful for business owners who also own the property in which their business is located. 

The Dairy Queen on High Street in Morgantown is a great example of this. It’s not a small town but it was a small project. The owner’s business is in a building they own, so they were able to use the credits to rehabilitate the building.

What kinds of redevelopment projects make good candidates for using the state historic tax credit?

Dustin: In order to qualify for the credit, the property has to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places or be in a historic district. The Golden Rule Building wasn’t initially on the list, so getting it added was part of the process. It was eligible to be listed because the building played a significant role in the mercantile history of the area and it has a really cool, water powered elevator.

Mike: You also want to consider the plan for reuse. Projects which require massive changes to the building generally don’t qualify. For example, the SHTC is often a good fit for small scale residential buildings in the hospitality industry because you don’t have to change a building that much to retrofit it as a restaurant, inn, or event space.

What kind of impact has this project had on this community, specifically?

Dustin: So far, there are 10 new homes in a market where there is a complete housing shortage. The first floor was set up to be a marketplace, but hasn’t been filled due to covid. In the meantime, the community has been using this space for pop-up events. 

Emily: Yeah, the housing piece is really important as well because it sets a standard for what affordable housing can look like in Barbour County.

Mike: In addition to contributing to existing community development plans for Belington, the Golden Rule also elevates the tone of the town by not being an eyesore right when people come into town and it sets a standard of maintenance and character for other downtown property owners. 

Dustin:That’s right. If we hadn’t come along, that building would likely have been torn down many years ago. Rehabbing buildings like this one is key for a community like Bealington which has lost a lot of historic structures already. 

What are some actionable steps small communities can take to attract investment? Where should they start?

Mike: I think the first thing people can do is to educate themselves about the funding streams that are available for redevelopment. Then, a great place to start is to create a building inventory to see what structures are available to then begin marketing to potential developers. And there are resources out there to support this kind of work.

Dustin: I would encourage people to remember that when you take on this kind of community development, it’s a long game. It took us about 7 or 8 years to go from planning to rehabilitation to placing the building in service last year. 

Emily: Our mission at Woodlands is to do projects that reflect the goals held by the community we’re working in. The Golden Rule probably wasn’t a project we would have taken on by ourselves, but it was very important to the community and certainly no for-profit developer would have been interested in it.To Mike’s point, there is a lot of Technical Assistance that’s available through our organization and others to help with funding, inventories, et cetera. So, seek out support from organizations that can help get you moving while prioritizing community goals. 

Want to know more?

If you’re wondering whether the SHTC can be an important part of a reuse plan for a building you’re working on, the Small Business Development Center is there to help. Reach out to Shannon Mitchell at Shannon.H.Mitchell@wv.gov. Or, you can reach out to Susan Pierce at the State Historic Preservation Office at susan.m.pierce@wv.gov.

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