Our Buildings Tell a Story
Q: How were you first introduced to the historic tax credit market?
I began working on the renovation of warehouse buildings (converting to lofts) in 1991 in the Castleberry Hill area of Atlanta. During those early years, the developers I was working with discovered the tax credit program offered by the National Park Service (NPS) under the Department of Interior. We successfully nominated the area as a Historic District, thus making the buildings eligible for tax credit funding. From that point, I began to work with renovation projects throughout the Southeast that took advantage of the program and expanded my knowledge in working both through historic districts and with the nomination of buildings to the National Register of Historic Places. There are different incentives for buildings on the National Register and for buildings that contribute to an historic district. And there are varying programs in differing states and cities- Examples: North Carolina offers a state tax credit to match an awarded federal tax credit, and cities like Atlanta offer incentives for façade donation.
Q: What is it about these projects that inspire you?
I get to explore different types of buildings that shaped the economy and life of different areas and time periods from machine-age textile mills to turn of the century high-rise buildings. Each offers a unique construction system and a complexity of forming a design to work with the existing context. I see them as great puzzles that offer collaboration and exploration against an existing backdrop. You can find innovative ways to change the use and adapt a program to an existing building providing unique areas of wonder.
Q: How does the Historic Tax Credit program work?
It is a fairly complex set of rules- The NPS offers a program to provide a tax credit for owners that is based on the hard costs of construction and rehabilitation. The tax credit varies based on the contributing structure (10%) to Historic District, or (20%) to Buildings on Historic Register. The complexity is seen in the ownership arrangement, either an individual or corporation that uses the credits during a 7 year window (2 years back and 5 years forward). First, the project provides a Part 1 (nomination package for appropriateness) to the NPS for approval. Once approved, you can file a Part 2 (drawings and design for the rehabilitation). The Part 2 outlines all aspects of the rehabilitation and is commented upon by your NPS reviewer and incorporated into an approved rehabilitation agreement.
Q: The NPS will also rely upon local authorities or State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) for guidance. Do you have a working relationship from the local level to the federal level?
The NPS and SHPO monitor rehabilitation through the construction process. After construction is completed, the project files a Part 3 to provide acceptance that the renovation has been completed to NPS standards- upon approval the owner receives the documentation for the tax credit monies. This is the simple example—there are unique aspects to the ownership agreements, the approval and understanding of historic fabric in outlining the design characteristics and the variations in the types of tax credit or abatement programs offered.
Q: Why is the Historic Tax Credit Program so important?
The program allows an infusion of capital into the project allowing the project to be competitive for financing. Loray Mill is a great example: The buildings are comparatively inefficient from a square footage perspective compared to standard new residential development (apartments) and the construction costs can be higher due to modernization of construction techniques and materials. With the tax credits, 20% NPS and matching 20% SHPO (NC, in this case), the owner is able to finance the project at a discount thus making the renovation possible. The end result is the preservation of a Historic Landmark which otherwise would not have been possible, provision of both a new life and use for the building, and a contribution to the fabric of a community.
Q: How do these projects make an impact in their communities?
In general, the existing building has a history with the community—no one wants it removed, but finding a use can be a problem. Local preservation offices are essential in providing a history and local connection. At the Loray Mill, we have designed the Alfred C. Russell History Center within the mill complex. This particular mill has significance in the history of the formation of textile unions, and, in particular, a culminating strike in 1929. The building was the center of a greater Mill Village and was integral to the families that worked there as a center of the community. As the renovation began, members of the community (persons who worked in the mill, descendants of mill employees, as well as the owner’s family) would stop by the site and offer up tales from the building. The University of North Carolina Digital Innovation Lab has established an online digital archive of stories and photos of the history of Loray Mill including the renovated building, the Mill Village and the families associated with the mill. Through their program you can trace the histories of families in the Village—you can identify the homes, update historic photos, read newspaper articles and blog about the project..
Q: If you had to pick a favorite project, what would it be and why?
I would say the Arizona Lofts—it was a mundane 1950’s warehouse with little character (brick walls and steel structure). We developed a courtyard system to cut into the existing structure providing an internal circulation system winding between units and their private patios. The courtyards were heavily landscaped and within 3 years the growth provided a unique wonderland concealed within the building. The interaction of residents in the boundaries of the public/private space has led to unique zones of interaction, both lively and tranquil. It really pushed us to create different courtyards and not settle for the bland hardscapes we had seen in other projects.