Updated January 26 at 10:26am

Historic tax credits can stabilize commercial tax bases

'There are still buildings that are boarded up, but some activity is back.'

Rep. Jeremiah T. O’Grady’s career change from human resources to real estate, eventually becoming a project manager for Olneyville Housing Corp., put him in a unique position to watch the havoc caused by the collapse of the housing bubble. Elected to the General Assembly in 2010, the Lincoln Democrat is now trying to reverse some of the damage caused by the downturn through smart growth priorities such as the restoration of historic tax credits and transportation-funding reform. For his efforts on Smith Hill, O’Grady was a co-recipient of GrowSmart Rhode Island’s 2012 Outstanding Leadership Award. More

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Historic tax credits can stabilize commercial tax bases

'There are still buildings that are boarded up, but some activity is back.'

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Rep. Jeremiah T. O’Grady’s career change from human resources to real estate, eventually becoming a project manager for Olneyville Housing Corp., put him in a unique position to watch the havoc caused by the collapse of the housing bubble. Elected to the General Assembly in 2010, the Lincoln Democrat is now trying to reverse some of the damage caused by the downturn through smart growth priorities such as the restoration of historic tax credits and transportation-funding reform. For his efforts on Smith Hill, O’Grady was a co-recipient of GrowSmart Rhode Island’s 2012 Outstanding Leadership Award.

He discusses what tripped up this year’s bid to bring back historic tax credits, the future of transportation funding and whether neighborhoods like Olneyville have stabilized since the recession.

PBN: There was a lot of support for bringing back the historic tax credits this year, including among leadership, but again it didn’t happen. What went wrong?

O’GRADY: We assembled a tremendous coalition of advocates for a full restoration, including developers, municipal officials driven by the tax-base stabilization benefit, labor leaders looking at the job benefits and smart-growth advocates who could see the efficiencies inherent in reusing our portfolio of historically significant buildings. When it came down to it, there is always a tension between what you want to be able to do and what you can afford to do. The House Finance Committee, despite our best efforts, concluded that this was not something that could be done this year.

PBN: How close to passing was the compromise bill that emerged out of the Senate?

O’GRADY: I really liked that as a fallback. Back in 2008, when the original program was discontinued, there was a small window for those with eligible projects to reserve future credits and it required people to estimate how many they would be using and pay an upfront processing fee to reserve those credits. What the state did was booked a liability in the amount of credits that were reserved. Since then there was an abandonment of at least $25 million [by people] who wanted a refund of their fee. In addition to that $25 million, there were undoubtedly projects that over-reserved credits.

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