Preserving Downtown America: Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credits and the Transformation of U.S. Cities

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Journal of the American Planning Association


Problem, research strategy, and findings: Do historic rehabilitation tax credits (RTCs) play a central force in ongoing urban revitalization? I examine the role that federal RTCs have played in transforming U.S. downtowns using a case study approach and geocoded, longitudinal data for 10 cities: Atlanta (GA), Baltimore (MD), Cleveland (OH), Denver (CO), Philadelphia (PA), Portland (OR), Providence (RI), Richmond (VA), Seattle (WA), and St. Louis (MO). I find intense concentrations of downtown RTC investments in these cities; these projects were relatively resilient through the recent recession. Federal RTCs play an important role in the ongoing, postindustrial transformation of U.S. downtowns. RTC-funded projects concentrate downtown and are a key factor in the reinvestment of declining cities. Takeaway for practice: Historic rehabilitation tax credits are an important tool for downtown revitalization efforts and will help local planners and urban policymakers develop robust strategies for downtown redevelopment. Unfortunately, the RTC program cannot be used for owner-occupied units, public schools, or government buildings; there are a finite number of eligible historic buildings; and planners have little control over the location of RTC-supported projects. Local planners, however, can facilitate the use of RTC financing by removing regulatory barriers to adaptive reuse and downtown mixed-use development, being cautious when considering demolishing older buildings, and working with local preservation groups to streamline the process.







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