Local historic buildings could suffer
By CASEY JUNKINS
— A federal historic tax credit helped developers transform the former Wheeling Stamping Co. building into the Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe Global Operations Center and the old Stone & Thomas building into the Stone Center, home to Williams Lea Tag.
But Wheeling officials fear similar restoration projects won’t make financial sense for developers if Congress passes the tax cut proposal introduced this week, which would eliminate the federal 20-percent credit on expenses to rehabilitate historic buildings.
In all, Wheeling Heritage Executive Director Jake Dougherty attributes at least $40 million worth of private-sector investment in Wheeling to the program, while hundreds of employees work in buildings throughout the Friendly City which have been redeveloped with the assistance of historic tax credits.
Dougherty said the timing of this proposed cut could not be worse, because the West Virginia Legislature just last month approved expanding the credit for such work on state taxes from 10 percent to 25 percent, which gave local leaders optimism that more redevelopment would be on the way.
“We were very excited to see what happened with the expansion of the state credit,” he said.
“This would be a devastating blow to the progress that is being made here. These credits make historic rehabilitation viable.”
In addition to Orrick and the Stone Center, Dougherty said these projects used credits from the federal program:
— The Maxwell Center in Center Wheeling (formerly a YMCA);
– Bennett Square in Center Wheeling (the former Ohio County Public Library);
— The Boury Lofts (formerly a factory and warehouse); and
— The Flatiron Building (renovations in progress).
Additionally, projects proposed for the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel building, the former Columbia Gas building and the former Marsh Wheeling Stogies building may fail to materialize if the federal credit ends, he said.
“It not only helps big projects get done, but it also helps small business owners,” he said. “This is a very important tool for private development.”
Eliminating the federal credit is part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, introduced this week. He said the legislation would allow a family of four that with a median household income of $59,000 to receive a $1,182 federal tax cut.
One of Brady’s fellow Republicans, Rep. David McKinley, W-Va., said he’s against removing the federal historic tax credit. As both an entrepreneur and an engineer from Wheeling, McKinley knows how the credit can benefit cities replete with old buildings.
“Since its inception in 1978, this tax credit has spurred economic activity and has directly aided in the revitalization of Main Streets and rural communities nationwide. Over 40 percent of the projects using this credit have been in rural communities, breathing new life into their downtowns and attracting investment,” McKinley said.
Both Dougherty and Vice Mayor Chad Thalman said they appreciated McKinley’s efforts to preserve the credit.
“It’s safe to say that eliminating or reducing the federal credit would slow down some of the progress that is being made in downtown Wheeling. The state and federal credits are both needed in order to make the numbers work on some of the buildings in downtown,”Thalman said. “I’m optimistic that legislators in Washington, D.C. will realize that these credits are an important economic development tool for cities all over the country.”
Councilwoman Wendy Scatterday, who is also an architect, called the concept of eliminating the credit “ill-advised.”
“We really need to get out there and lobby Congress to make sure this is maintained,” she said. “Since it is labeled a ‘tax credit,’ it has become a target. We need to let Congress know what a vital economic driver this is for communities like Wheeling.”