DDD endorses keeping historic tax credits

Advocate file photo -- The Hotel Indigo is among projects downtown that have been redeveloped using historic tax credits. The Downtown Development District supports retaining the credits as Gov. Bobby Jindal takes steps to overhaul state taxes.
Advocate file photo -- The Hotel Indigo is among projects downtown that have been redeveloped using historic tax credits. The Downtown Development District supports retaining the credits as Gov. Bobby Jindal takes steps to overhaul state taxes.

The Downtown Development District Commission on Tuesday voted to support keeping the state historic tax credit, a tool that has been used to support redevelopment projects across Louisiana over the past 11 years that could be threatened by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tax overhaul.

The state tax credits work with federal tax credits to give developers a 45 percent credit for the eligible cost and expenses of the renovation of an approved historic structure.

Over the years, the credit has been used for a number of downtown projects, such as the renovation of the Hilton hotel, the Hotel Indigo and the Kress @ Third and Main building.

“These tax credits have been so fruitful over the years,” said Davis Rhorer, executive director of the DDD. “Every bit helps when you are trying to encourage people to do these projects.”

Jonathan Fricker, who owns and operates Fricker Historic Preservation Services, said over the past four years, he has worked on 22 projects statewide that used historic tax credits that had $50 million in rehabilitation costs. The majority of the money, $36 million, came from out-of-state developers, including investors from California and Texas.

“There are 32 states that have historic tax credits in place,” Fricker said. “If this goes away, we go to the back of the bus.”

Jindal is set to unveil his tax plan on Friday. He wants to eliminate the state’s personal income and corporate taxes in a budget-neutral way, requiring nearly $3 billion in revenue to be replaced. Personal income taxes serve as the vehicle to give the historic tax credits.

Ben Dupuy, who leads government affairs and marketing for Stonehenge Capital Co., said there is an easy fix to ensure the state historic tax continues even if the income tax is eliminated: switch the credit so it can be taken against a different tax. Likely candidates could be the insurance premium tax or the severance tax.

“There are a bunch of taxes out there,” Dupuy said.

Stonehenge specializes in tax credit financing and has placed $1.3 billion in tax credits for historic rehabilitation, film and television, and brownfield remediation, among others, across 20 states.

Dupuy said he’s spoken to a lot of different policymakers and there’s been no opposition expressed to keeping the historic tax credits and applying them to something other than income taxes.

“There’s a lot of support for the tax credits,” he said. “They’ve done a lot of good really all over the state. We’re glad to see the support all over.”

In other business:

HAMPTON INN: Zoltan Csete, recently named as general manager of the Hampton Inn and Suites Baton Rouge Downtown, said the 137-room hotel at Lafayette and Main streets is set to open at the end of April. Crews are putting the final touches on the hotel, such as putting in furniture and installing balcony railings.

A Hampton job fair last week attracted 300 applicants, Csete said.

SPRINGBOARD: John Schneider, one of the principals in the redevelopment of the Hotel Indigo and the Kress @ Third and Main, said he should reach his goal of raising $3 million for Springboard Baton Rouge by the end of the month.

Springboard will serve as a business accelerator for startup companies, developing them to the point where they can market themselves to investors.

Schneider also introduced James Digby, the CEO of Springboard.

“He’s going to be a disruptive force for good within the community,” Schneider said.

REPENTANCE PARK: A ribbon cutting for the $3.5 million renovation of Repentance Park will be at noon April 2. The park, bordered by the Old State Capitol, Governmental Building and Baton Rouge River Center, has been closed since February 2012. The improvements will open up the park and allow it to better tie into the North Boulevard Town Square and Galvez Plaza.

The park will feature child-friendly amenities, such as a fountain with 750 jets and a hill rolling downward from the Old State Capitol.