Earlier this year, Michigan lost the Historic Tax Credit (HTC) that had been in place for over a decade. While this loss is devastating, and the Michigan Historic Preservation Network (MHPN) hopes to have something in place soon that will provide financial incentives for historic preservation projects across the state, it does not mean that preservation will end. In fact, for many of us, historic preservation happened in spite of the credits.
Weekend warriors, homeowners, and those with small commercial spaces alike are doing their part to help protect the buildings of our past and ensure they are here for generations to come. In January, 2011, the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) noted that there were 74 communities across the state that included at least one, and often more, historic districts. Of these, 23 had demonstrated sufficient dedication and activity in the promotion of historic preservation that they were awarded the status of Certified Local Government (CLG). For a complete list of the communities that have formalized their historic preservation activity, please visit the SHPO website.
In addition to the communities that have included historic preservation as local historic districts and CLGs, there are many more that are currently working on establishing local districts, or who have used a preservation overlay district while waiting for the environment to be right for the next step forward. While the tax credits may have been part of the desire to create local historic districts, it is also part of protecting the individuality of each community, and assuring that the reason it is historically important survives.
During the effort to save the HTC, huge numbers were bandied about citing the number of projects that benefited from the credit, the number of jobs created, and the total impact on the community where the project was located. None of these statistics are available for the private property owners who, residing in a local historic district or not, are just “doing the right thing” in the work they complete on their buildings. They are not inspired to take on a huge project for the financial gain, but still, they are inspired to work on their buildings because it is just the right thing to do. The “right thing” ensures that their historic building continues to accurately represent its time period. They restore the woodwork, repair wood windows, and coax a few more years out of their slate roofing materials. These are the OTHER preservation projects.
The advance in preservation restoration methods and materials may be the result of the large tax credit inspired projects. And, it is often these big tax projects where the restoration craftsmen perfect their skills. But this isn’t the end of the circle. For it truly is a circle of learning and sharing, when these same products perfected in the big projects make their way into the home in a local historic district, or a craftsman shares his knowledge with a property owner seeking to repair plaster walls and wood windows.
So, in spite of the loss of the HTC, the circle of historic preservation continues in Michigan. While the legislators did their best to take away the financial incentive, they can’t take away the desire of historic preservationists across Michigan who just want to do the right thing. In the end, it is the cumulative total of these OTHER preservation projects that represent more investment, more property taxes, and more sales tax than all the HTC projects together ever will, because they represent hundreds of thousands of Michigan residents simply taking care of their historic properties quietly, incrementally, and with no notice.
(This Opinion piece was inspired by comments made by Steve Stier and Janet Kreger.)