'Credits can be looked at as a jobs bill and a stimulus.'
RESTORING RESPECT: The 150-year-old Pontiac Mills in Warwick was once pegged for a $52 million restoration project. That fell through, and prospective buyers are apprehensive without a historic-tax-credit program in place.
PBN PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY
HISTORY LESSONS: Bruce Thunberg, Landmark Realty Group listing agent, is searching for a buyer for the Pontiac Mills in Warwick.
The 150-year-old red brick walls of Pontiac Mills in Warwick are showing their age. Listing agent Bruce Thunberg can’t say how long the historic complex can remain vacant before it becomes impossible to save.
As he searches for a buyer willing to invest in what at one point was a $52 million restoration project, Thunberg hears a familiar refrain from developers intrigued by the old textile mill: When will Rhode Island bring historic tax credits back?
“That is what everyone is waiting for,” said Thunberg, of Landmark Realty Group in South Kingstown. “I can’t tell you how many phone calls I get from building developers and investors asking about the tax credits. The fact that they have been talked about since 2008, it has been like a baited hook with no barb.”
Since lawmakers staring down a budget crisis four years ago eliminated the state’s historic-tax-credit program, planners, developers, mayors, Realtors and builders throughout the state have pushed for its return to spark a market for old properties like Pontiac Mills across the state.
Last year an effort to bring the credits back to life died in the House Finance Committee, but this year proponents have launched bills in both the House and Senate with at least conceptual support from leadership in both chambers and the governor’s office.
“I think the bill last year was kind of late in the session and the Finance Committee was dealing with a sizable deficit,” said Rep. Jeremiah O’Grady, D-Lincoln, who sponsored a historic-tax-credit bill in the House.
With a day job as project manager with the Olneyville Housing Corp., O’Grady said every day he sees several old industrial buildings west of Olneyville Square that look like candidates for tax credits and would boost the neighborhood if restored.
The main concern about historic tax credits has always been their cost, so O’Grady, his Senate counterparts and supporters of bringing them back have come up with a “leaner” version of the program in the latest bills.