State official discusses financial benefits of historic preservation
Jim Draeger, Wisconsin state historic preservation officer and director of outreach for the Wisconsin Historical Society, discussed the financial benefits for businesses and home owners of registering historic buildings and homes with the state and federal governments and the available perks for rehabbing during a special meeting hosted by the Stevens Point Department of Community Development Wednesday, Dec. 16, in the Portage County Public Library.
“So, why historic preservation? Why do we preserve things? It celebrates your community heritage,” said Draeger. “Stevens Point is unlike any other place in the world, there is only one Stevens Point. And what makes it that? It’s not the buildings out on the edge of town. It’s not the Walmarts that make Stevens Point, Stevens Point. It’s this stuff here (the historical districts) that unique identity. And that is worth money. It’s worth a lot of money.
“People study millennials all the time now, and one of the really striking things about millennials is they want to be in historic places. They don’t want to live in the suburbs out on the edge of town, they want to be in historic places, they want to live in historic buildings, and they want to work in historic buildings,” he said.
“They want the ambiance that historic downtowns and historic neighborhoods have, and they’re also a lot less materialistic. They don’t like things, they like experiences. That’s where they spend their money. They don’t spend their money buying a house or buying a car,” Draeger said. “My son is a millennial and he doesn’t own a car. He told me, ‘I don’t even know if I’ll ever want a car.’ He doesn’t have any interest in owning a house. He’s content to rent.
“So, there’s a cultural change that’s happening with these younger people and what they value, and historic preservation is really important to attracting those younger people that bring vibrancy to your community,” he said.
“Historic preservation also attracts investment dollars,” he said. “There are developers who look for projects to invest in that are using (state and federal) tax credits. So, you can attract outside dollars as a result of historic preservation.”
Since 1982, there has been $6.2 billion in rehabilitation work in Wisconsin as a direct result of efforts to incentivize historical preservation. The 1,150 projects have created nearly 63,000 jobs as well.
“It’s an economic development program, really,” he said.
One of the biggest myths about being added to the state and federal registry is that it comes with heavy restrictions, he said.
“There is a general belief that being listed on the national register or the state register means that you have to go through some approvals, get some permits and get special approvals to do something with your building. That’s absolutely untrue,” he said.
“There are two different kinds of designations, buildings can be designated on the local level – that is regulatory and is through the zoning powers of the city, so the city can zone something as historic and that creates a review process under the city ordinance. National register and state register are strictly benefit programs,” Draeger said.
The federal historic preservation program dates back to 1966 with the passing of the Historical Preservation Act.
“What that did was create a federal framework in which historical preservation could happen. Before then, everyone who was interested in historical preservation kind of did their own thing. Everybody operated differently and there wasn’t any organization.”
The Historical Preservation Act created state offices to help organize efforts in each state; identify properties of historical value that define the individual characteristics of each municipality; and act as an advocate for historic properties during renovation projects which include federal or state funding or tax credits.
There are two different kinds of tax credits in Wisconsin … There are tax credits for income-producing buildings, which can cover up to 40 percent of the project costs when state and federal credits are applied, and owner-occupied tax credits, which can cover up to 25 percent of a home renovation project.
“It’s the best deal in real estate business,” he said. “There is no other opportunity for you to get 40 percent of your investment back in the form of a tax credit as soon as you put that building in service.
“There’s a 25-percent home owner tax credit too. It has to be owner occupied and the minimum investment must be $10,000 in the project,” he said. “I just did a tax credit project in my own house, I did work on the windows of my house and put in a new furnace. It’s was a$10,000 project, so I got $2,500 as a credit against my state income tax.”
Another example he gave of the benefits to using the program to rehab buildings was the former courthouse and post office building in Wausau. A developer bought the building and turned it into apartments.
“It was a federal courthouse and post office, they surplused the building about 15 years ago,” he said. “So, you can take a building that was a federal courthouse, turn it into apartments and get tax credits. So, it doesn’t have to continue to be a courthouse. But while they did that work, they kept all the things that kept its ‘courthouse-ness.’
“They retained the character that made it a historic building, but for their efforts they got tax credits,” Draeger said.
The project was a $4 million project and they received more than $1 million in tax credits, he said.
“In order to qualify for the credit, your property has to be historic. Which means the property must be listed on the state register of historic places and the national register of historic places,” Draeger said.
In Stevens Point, city officials will help residents and business owners register their property if it is eligible for historic preservation.
“Property owners that are within (a historical district) need to get approval either at the staff level or through what’s called a historic preservation design review commission. Minor improvements can be approved by staff, major improvements have to go through the commission,” said Kyle Kearns, economic development specialist/associate planner for the city of Stevens Point.
“The commission was created several years ago to ensure that the historical integrity of downtown is maintained,” Kearns said. “It may be an added step as a property owner as you’re improving your property, but again it’s to ensure you’re not ruining the historical integrity of the district.”
For example, it’s to prevent someone from taking cedar siding and putting up vinyl siding, he said.
“There was a historical survey completed in 2011 that identified several properties throughout the city – it was actually a survey of the entire city – but it identified properties that have good potential to become locally designated, state designated and nationally designated as a historic property, as a historic building or as a historic landmark,” Kearns said.
“The intensive survey also identified several additional districts – clusters of homes or buildings – that could be designated as historical districts in addition to the three we already have,” he said.
Anyone interested in registering a property on the local level can contact the Stevens Point Department of Community Development at 715-346-1567 or visit the office at 1515 Strongs Ave., Stevens Point, to view historical district maps and obtain the list of properties considered good candidates for historic preservation.
For more information on entering an owner-occupied home or commercial business into the Wisconsin state historical registry, contact Jen Davel at 608-264-6490 or [email protected], or visit www.wisconsinhistory.org/preserve-your-building.
To learn more about the tax credits available for homes and commercial buildings, visit www.wisconsinhistory.org/taxcredits.