Fred Presley, West Warwick’s interim town manager and economic-development coordinator, has seen firsthand how tax credits for preservation of historic properties can be a boon to a community.
Once one of the world’s busiest hydro-powered cotton mills, by the end of the last century the Royal Mills had become instead another industrial eyesore, and there was talk of demolishing the old granite buildings. Instead tax credits allowed a developer to transform the property into 250 apartments and 50,000 square feet of retail space.
“It’s a beautiful project that really adds something to the area, but it would never have happened without tax credits,” Presley said. “For some time now people have been saying we need to bring back the preservation program.”
You’ll hear similar stories in every Rhode Island city or town that boomed during the state’s manufacturing heyday, then sagged when those industries moved south or overseas. Before the historic-tax-credit program was suspended for budgetary reasons in 2008, almost every old, industrial center in the state saw once-blighted buildings come to life again as shopping plazas, office space or housing.
With a partial restoration of the program during this year’s legislative session, that trend is expected to resume, and municipal leaders all over the state are sending signals they’re ready to work with developers.
West Warwick is one example. Presley is hoping to attract investors to several old structures, most notably the Crompton Mill at the corner of Main and Pulaski streets and the Arctic Mill on Factory Street. He’s quick to point out that reviving those properties would do more than simply save cultural landmarks. The town’s tax base could get a healthy boost, too.
“If those buildings were renovated and rented to new tenants, it would greatly increase their value,” he said. “For tax purposes, it would help this town tremendously.”
Communities will reap other economic benefits as well, according to Scott Wolf, executive director of Grow Smart Rhode Island. “It’s going to be a real shot in the arm for some of our hard-pressed municipalities, because those are the areas where a significant number of historic buildings are located,” he said. “Historic buildings and neighborhoods are potential magnets for knowledge-economy companies and workers, and this state has an expansive collection. And one sector of our economy that was really hit hard by the economic downturn was the construction industry. They’ll be helped by this.”