Rhode Island has approved 23 projects for state historic preservation tax credits since temporarily reviving the program a year ago – none of them private mansions or social clubs.
Suspended during the 2008 budget crisis under criticism for financing work with little public benefit, such as the posh Hope Club on Providence’s College Hill, the program is now mostly being used to create new rental housing, with about half the projects also including at least some commercial element.
When lawmakers reinstated $34.5 million for new credits in 2013, they banned social clubs and any project with fewer than three apartments. Then they capped the amount any single project could collect at $5 million.
The projects that have come out of this new funding round, roughly a dozen of them already under construction, are fairly similar to the ones proposed during the scramble for credits before the 2008 suspension.
There are fewer megaprojects like the soon-to-begin South Street Power Station, which reserved its credits before the program was put on ice, and very few small projects like single-family homes or diners.
So what is being built with the help of state historic tax credits and what could Rhode Islanders expect if the program is restarted again next year?
Only one project currently in the pipeline, the conversion of the American Tourister mill in Warren into a mixed-use complex with 200 apartments, maxes out the $5 million credit cap.
Now going through local permitting, the American Tourister proposal comes from Brady Sullivan Properties and Starr Development, the team responsible for two other projects on the tax-credits list: Eagle Street Lofts in Providence and the recently completed American Wire apartments in Pawtucket.
As it happens, the Eagle Street Lofts, which would convert the former U.S. Rubber Factory into apartments, is the second-largest project with $4 million in estimated credits. American Wire, with 143 apartments on Central Avenue, is slated to receive $1.85 million.
One common criticism of historic tax credits, and development incentives in general, is that they often subsidize construction that would have happened anyway.
Of the 23 projects that have signed contracts with the state Division of Taxation, at least three, including American Wire, were already in progress when the program was restarted last summer. The others were two phases of the Providence G project in Providence.