Written by Erica Stewart
As someone whose job involves a significant amount of writing, my work gets infinitely easier when I trade the confines of my desk (and the bounds my imagination) for the actual streets and buildings where historic preservation meets the road. So I jumped at the chance to join a tour of historic rehabilitation projects in Baltimore, a city where the National Trust's Community Revitalization department and its for-profit subsidiary, NTCIC, have a long and rich history of involvement. It was a stimulating day spent among preservationists and development professionals, full of photo ops and personal stories from the field that are pure manna for a desk jockey like me.
The afternoon tour took us past some of the city's toniest streets as well as sidewalk scenes straight out of HBO's crime drama, The Wire. I had the chance to witness a diverse range of project types -- from a world-class performing arts space, to services for the city's neediest -- stages of completion, and socio-economic context.
The first stop on the tour was lunch at the Tremont Grand (an amazing adaptive reuse story) and the main course was a discussion of tax credits, specifically the Maryland state historic tax credit. The message that stayed with me much longer than the chocolate torte served for dessert was that the Maryland credit has done more than any other economic development tool to revive large chunks of Baltimore city.
The credit, which is available for both owner-occupied residences and for commercial buildings, made the economics work for homeowners rehabbing homes in neighborhoods that offered proximity to parks and public transportation but that had been mothballed for oh, a few decades. The tax incentive helped homebuyers update existing homes in a historically-sensitive fashion, serving to retain the city's older housing stock and ensuring its role in the city's rebirth. The commercial use of the credit, meanwhile, helped developers finance the reuse of the city's great industrial, office, and mixed-use buildings, bringing a wave of jobs and neighborhood-serving businesses to residents. These amenities, housed in evocative historic buildings, helped attract additional residents to the city, creating a powerful positive feedback loop that helped reverse Baltimore's population decline for the first time in a decade.
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