MANSFIELD – While Amanda Golden of Designing Local recognizes there are many economic development tools, she wants to see more historic preservation in places like Mansfield.
“Preservation (of historic buildings) is an amazing economic development tool that like art, many people have viewed for a long time as ‘preservation for preservation's sake.’ But I don’t think that’s the name of the game anymore,” she said. “I think, we’re realizing preservation is an economic development tool and a strong one.
"It encourages sustainable development, and what’s more sustainable than developing and redeveloping buildings that currently exist rather than demolishing them?”
The co-founder and principal owner of the Columbus-based cultural planning firm spoke about historic preservation tax credits with guest Steve McQuillen, who is familiar with the credits from his preservation projects in downtown Mansfield and Haysville, on Friday at the Richland Area Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Club luncheon.
Golden is hopeful that a portion of downtown Mansfield, with about 115 historic houses built from 1895 1967, could soon become recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. An application will be submitted in March.
If the area makes the national register, all the more than 50-year-old buildings in the designated district will be recognized as historic. In turn, the people who own them can apply for tax credits for renovation projects. However, it doesn’t exempt any buildings from demolitions or require design review for the renovations.
“It’s purely recognition and purely access to financial assistance,” Golden said.
According to her presentation, building owners could access up to a 45-percent discount on renovations. A project involving any qualified building could receive a noncompetitive 20 percent federal tax credit and could compete for an additional 25 percent state tax credit.
“The state doesn’t have enough money to help every single building that wants tax credits,” Golden said. “I think, that means we need to be advocating for more money for our buildings and our cities. But for the state, that means they have a competitive program.”
She admits the application and process to receive tax credits can be time-consuming, but believes it’s worthwhile.
“It does take quite a lot of time to get as most things that are worth getting do,” Golden said.
Uncontrollable factors like “how far the money will go in your city” play a part in the state's decisions, as do more individual things like the amount of money property owners have committed to their projects.
The goal, Golden says, is for the state to get its investment back. She reports each dollar spent in state tax credits for preservation brings a $1.34 return.
“Personally, I think that number is a little low. I think some of the effects of the tax credit can’t be felt for years to come because you don’t know how an investment in one building then grows the economy on from there,” Golden said.
One key piece to the tax credits is that the project’s results must be income producing. This might mean the creation of apartments or an event space. The money can’t be used for a single-family home.
But in downtown Mansfield, where apartments are in such high-demand that Downtown Mansfield Incorporated has a waiting list, Golden thinks apartments are just what’s needed.
“We’ve heard from the public overwhelmingly that many of you want more businesses downtown and more people to live downtown to support the businesses that are on the first floor of many of the buildings, but you can’t do that if the buildings aren’t suitable to live in,” she said.
The tax credits could be especially impactful in Mansfield, where buildings with "charm" and "character" could be renovated.
"Young people aren’t drawn to places like Dublin or places like Hillard that have new modern architecture. They’re drawn to places like Columbus and small walkable communities like Mansfield that have historic structures that are small, have character inside," Golden said.
The other speaker, McQuillen has also seen this trend and acted upon it. Last fall, he began converting an early Gothic Revival style house at the corner of Fifth and Walnut Streets into two apartments to accommodate urban living in downtown Mansfield.
The previous year, McQuillen was featured in the Richland Source for transforming the Vermilion Institute in Hayesville, where he resides. After sitting vacant for more than 80 years, the renovated historic building was presented during an open house in September 2016.
“Look what’s happened in Hayesville since I did my project. More things have happened,” McQuillen said, voicing support for the tax credit program.
The Hayesville resident works as a preservation consultant. His office is located at the renovated Vermilion Institute.
Golden has a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in city and regional planning from Ohio State University. In addition to her role as managing principal of Designing Local, she is a certified creative placemaker and the director of the Central Ohio Chapter of the American Planning Association.