Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has only days to sign legislation encouraging development of larger historic building rehabilitation projects, and he should do so.
Cuomo was recently sent a bill raising the limit on state historic rehabilitation tax credits from $5 million per project to $12 million.
The bill was pushed through the Legislature by Republican Sen. Mark J. Grisanti of Buffalo and Democratic Assemblyman Steve Englebright of Long Island.
Developer Rocco Termini has utilized state historic tax credits to restore important pieces of Buffalo’s history, including the $43 million makeover of the Hotel @ the Lafayette using the $5 million in historic tax credits available under the current law.
The new limit would give larger and more complicated projects a chance at the same attention. Earlier in the year, Termini issued a preliminary promise to renovate the old AM&A’s department store on Main Street, which is in desperate need of rehab. But that promise was tied to an increase in the tax credit incentive.
As Termini said then, there are other projects developers might tackle with the assistance of a higher credit, including the Women & Children’s Hospital campus when the hospital moves to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
Mammoth endeavors such as the Central Terminal and H.H. Richardson Complex will move forward only with the substantial assistance offered by a higher cap.
The legislation certainly will benefit Buffalo, but other parts of the state will also feel its effects.
In Yonkers, what was once a coal-fired power plant could be converted from a remarkable early 1900s industrial facility into a boutique hotel, conference center, restaurant and art space. This is a building that is in danger of falling into the Hudson River without an extraordinary makeover, and it needs more than $5 million in historic tax credits to move forward.
The bill awaiting Cuomo’s signature has one major flaw: It did not extend the program, which is due to expire in 2014. There are many good projects throughout the state that simply need more time to plan how to take advantage of $12 million in incentives.
A proposal to extend the program for five years never gained ground. With just two years left in the program, there is little time to finalize the type of large projects that will utilize the higher tax credit limit. Extending the program should be a priority for the next legislative session.
If the governor decides to veto the bill, he should commit to his own version of a cap increase and program extension in his next executive budget, and reference that commitment in his State of the State address. Both the Senate and Assembly should address the higher cap and program extension in their own budget proposals.
There has to be some mechanism to allow major historic preservation projects in the state to move forward. The short-term costs of the tax credits to the state treasury will be more than offset by the economic activity the projects will generate. And, in Buffalo, a few more gems of our architectural heritage will be restored.
The Grisanti-Englebright legislation should be approved, and improved early next year.