It can seem like an everyday occurrence. Another sign goes up, another set of plans is drawn up.
But though a decided recent trend of developers taking advantage of historic tax credits to renovate downtown buildings shows no signs of slowing, industry insiders say there are still plenty of properties left to potentially preserve.
“People don’t think of Columbia as having a lot of historic buildings necessarily, but what’s considered historic today is not necessarily what people think of as historic traditionally,” said Columbia attorney Chris Rogers, who specializes in tax credit application in commercial real estate at Rogers Lewis Jackson Mann & Quinn. “We may not have a lot of buildings here that were built in the 1700s or the 1800s, but we certainly have a lot of buildings that were built in the 1900s, and mid-century modern is the newest trend in historic preservation.”
A list provided by the City of Columbia shows 124 projects begun under the Bailey Bill from 1999-2016. The Bailey Bill is a state law allowing local governments to grant tax abatements to rehabilitated properties that qualify as historic. In Columbia and Richland County, buildings can be assessed at their pre-rehabilitation value for up to 20 years, as long as 20% of the property value is spent on renovations.
The S.C. Department of Archives & History has seen similar growth in renovations of federal historic landmarks, with four such buildings on Main Street alone receiving tax credits for renovations from 2014-15. By comparison, five such renovations were completed on Main Street from 2002-2012, said senior historic architecture consultant Dan Elswick.
“There’s a pattern there,” Elswick said. “There’s a big influx on Main right now.”
Main Street, in the midst of a commercial and residential renaissance, is quite popular for Bailey Bill credit seekers as well.
In April, the Berry Building at 1608 Main St. joined a growing list of downtown properties gaining Bailey Bill Status, including 1649 Main St., former site of Hennessy’s restaurant. In August, the Design/Development Review Commission approved exterior changes to 1222 and 1224 Taylor St., former locations of Rose-Talbert Paints and Western Auto, respectively. Those renovations are part of a $7.5 million project being overseen by Sumter LLC that also includes the old Powell Furniture Building at 1519 Sumter St.
“There’s still a lot of potential for improvement on Main Street, and I think it will continue,” Rogers said. “There’s been a lot of discussion about North Main. That might be the next place where you start to see activity. That could be ripe for future development.”
Qualifications for the Bailey Bill, first enacted in the 1970s and revised in ensuing years, vary. Properties listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings are shoo-ins. Buildings can also be Columbia city landmarks, be designated historic by the Richland County Conservation Commission or be at least 50 years old with demonstrated historical significance.
Bailey Bill usage experienced an uptick when Columbia and Richland County aligned their abatement periods in 2013.
“That’s when it took off, because it became extremely easy to do,” said Fred Delk, executive director of the Columbia Development Corporation. “It really wasn’t that long ago that we were talking about a few of these a year. Now it’s once a month.”
Traditionally, commercial properties have made the most use of Bailey Bill credits, including trailblazers such as the Publix grocery store on Gervais Street, Mast General Store on Main Street, and several downtown loft apartment buildings. However, residential Bailey Bill applications have increased in recent years, making up seven of the 16 certification applications to the city of Columbia as of September 2014 for that year, according to The State newspaper.
In August, historic tax credits celebrated a highly visible success when the renovated Palmetto Compress building, a 320,000-square-foot former cotton warehouse in the heart of the Vista on Devine and Pulaski streets, began welcoming residents into 197 apartments. The massive project, spearheaded by Philadelphia developer PMC Property Group and Columbia architect Scott Garvin, successfully repurposed the building, on the National List of Historic Places but once destined to be razed, into a vibrant second life with the help of tax credits including the Bailey Bill.
“We’ve gotten a lot of hard-to-do things done, and we’ve retained a lot of the character of the community,” Delk said. “(Historic buildings) really are the recognizable and unique – unique to each community – parts of our different towns and cities.”
There can be additional costs to renovating buildings with historic tax credits, as developers must comply with regulations. But the benefits are well worth it, experts say – and they can extend beyond the bottom line.
“It helps fund these projects with investment dollars, equity dollars,” said Rogers, whose firm handles projects in the Midlands as well as Charleston, the Upstate and secondary markets such as Florence. “It helps developers get these things done.
“Aside from the economics, there is a cool factor, if you will, to renovating an old building and having that exposed brickwork or exposed beams or ductwork. Those old facades – there’s a lot of historic characteristics of these buildings that you just don’t see in new construction, and it just adds a lot of character to a space. And people like that, so I think that adds value.”