Three projects in Akron qualified for tax credits in the latest round of competitive awards announced last week by the state Department of Development. The tax credits, totaling $14.9 million for the Akron projects and 10 others across the state, offer a significant financial boost for developers to rehabilitate historic buildings for new commercial and/or residential uses.
Older cities, the Akrons and Clevelands of Ohio, have an abundance of such buildings. The structures, connecting a storied past to the present, have a character and charm of their own. They also present special problems. More often than not, their usefulness and safety are reduced by age and structural weaknesses. Renovating them for contemporary uses, especially for new technologies, typically is expensive and time consuming. As a result, many older buildings, history and charm notwithstanding, often are financial liabilities for their owners and a drag for cities when they are underused, empty or abandoned for long periods.
The difficulty in lining up financing for redevelopment explains why the $60-million-a-year Historic Preservation Tax Credit program is proving such a key economic and cultural partner for older cities. In operation since 2007, the program spurs enterprising owners and cities to take on preservation projects in a tough economy.
Already, 10 projects in Akron, including the Gothic Building at High and Mill streets downtown, have been completed with tax credits won in previous rounds of awards. One of the three new awards will support the conversion of the old Swinehart Tire and Rubber Co. plant at 21 W. North St., now the ABTEC building, into the Cascade Lofts for residential and retail use. Another will advance renovation of five vacant buildings around the Civic Theatre into residential, restaurant and retail space. The third will help renovate two apartment buildings in Highland Square.
In all, this round of awards is projected to generate $100 million in private investment. A Cleveland State study found $1 million in tax credits generates $40 million in economic activity and about 400 jobs in construction and operations. That is reason enough to invest in historic buildings.