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Preserving Portland, Oregon: Support for the Credit Begins at Home
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Editor's Note

Since its inception, the historic tax credit has suffered from an identity crisis. On the one hand, it may have appeared as simply a bit of feel-good federal largess, enacted largely to level the playing field between new construction and rehabilitation, a way to restore some old buildings and maybe mitigate some of the worst impacts of urban renewal and highway building on historic communities. For building owners and developers on the other hand, it was little more than an economic proposition—it was a way to bring more money to their development project. Over time however, this modest proposal became an economic engine creating jobs for highly skilled workers, stimulating local economic activity, and stabilizing and expanding the tax base at rates far higher than other investments. For all that, the tax credit remains little known or well understood except by those who have taken the time to understand just how a building came to be restored, and why that building's restoration had a transformative effect on its community. Once you understand that, it is hard not to become a believer, and in the case of Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a champion.

Hundreds of magnificently restored landmarks have become the pride of their communities, however few now know, and many forget, the role of the tax credits in their restoration.

I have been a long-time supporter and advocate of the federal historic tax credit (HTC) throughout my career. Historic buildings and places represent the cultural fabric of our communities, defining our heritage and creating a sense of place. They offer more than architectural interest; they embody craftsmanship, culture, and even values. They are bold statements that link us to our past, providing tangible evidence of where we came from.

In 1975, as a member of the Oregon State Legislature, I worked on Oregon's Special Assessment of Historic Property Program, the nation's first state-level historic preservation tax incentive. This program still pays dividends today. Later, as Portland's Commissioner of Public Works, I came to have a great appreciation for the power of historic preservation to help revitalize a community. For me, Portland has always been a city that straddles the line between the past and the future. We have protected our history and built on that foundation to create a strong and thriving community for the future.

Preserving key elements of our past is made much easier by the HTC, which has enabled the rehabilitation and restoration of historic buildings for more than 30 years and is the most significant federal investment in historic preservation. Since its inception, the historic tax credit has generated nearly $100 billion in private investment and created 2.2 million jobs. In Oregon alone, from 2001 to 2011, the HTC helped finance the rehabilitation of 77 buildings and created more than 8,500 jobs.

Besides encouraging the rehabilitation of historic buildings of national, state, and local significance, the HTC also stimulates major private investment in our older, disinvested neighborhoods. Older cities across the country rely upon the HTC as an important tool to foster economic revitalization. As a nation, we want to live and work in places that reflect the stories that define our heritage. The HTC makes preserving, living, and working in those places possible.

Portland has several excellent examples of the significant impact of the HTC. In 2008 the University of Oregon opened a satellite campus, White Stag Block, which was created through the rehabilitation of three historic but derelict commercial buildings. The satellite campus now provides an urban base for more than 300 students, faculty, and staff, and without the HTC it would not have been possible. In addition to creating a space for the university, it also enabled the continued existence of historic buildings that are icons for downtown Portland.

The HTC has a proven track record as a job-creating, community-revitalizing investment tool; nonetheless, there are still ways to enhance its capacity to restore neighborhoods. While the HTC has successfully led to the adaptation of more than 38,000 buildings for productive uses, the majority have been larger projects. Many smaller projects, such as Main Street projects in...



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