Historic Structures Bill Could Have Future

Photo by Joselyn King
The former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel building, located at 1134 Market St. in Wheeling, could be among structures to benefit if legislation is enacted to raise the state’s historic rehabilitation tax credit.

Photo by Joselyn King The former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel building, located at 1134 Market St. in Wheeling, could be among structures to benefit if legislation is enacted to raise the state’s historic rehabilitation tax credit.

WHEELING — A tax credit for rehabilitating historic structures that didn’t pass during the West Virginia Legislature’s recent special session may not be history, after all, as local lawmakers plan to reintroduce the measure next year.

Language giving developers greater incentives to undertake the redevelopment of aging — and often vacant — buildings was included within a contentious tax reform bill that failed to gain approval in the last hours of the session last week. The language would have raised the historic tax credit in the state from 10 percent of qualified project costs to 25 percent, and it would have placed a cap of $3.7 million on each renovation project.

Neighboring states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania already offer a tax credit of 25 percent.

The measure had bipartisan support in both chambers, but fell victim as lawmakers debated the merits of reducing the state’s income tax and increasing the consumer sales tax.

Some Senate members even introduced the historic tax credit language as stand-alone legislation in the closing minutes of the session after it became obvious the tax reform bill would not pass, but it “didn’t move anywhere,” said Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio.

“Ultimately, they decided it wasn’t fair to take up one part of the bill and not the others,” he said. “Our fear was if we considered the historic tax credit legislation as stand-alone legislation, this would open Pandora’s box. … At that point there was so much tension we thought it might open a can of worms.”

Ferns said he plans to reintroduce the legislation next year, and he believes there is a “high likelihood” it will gain approval.

In the interim, city officials say, there are contractors waiting to pounce on projects in downtown Wheeling and elsewhere in West Virginia, but they are instead opting for work in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Ferns said raising the historic tax credit in the Mountain State is “a legitimate solution” to dealing with a high number of older, vacant structures in our communities.

“The cost of rehabilitating these building often outweighs any potential profit for any building owner interested in doing it,” he said. “The historic tax credit could be a real boon for economic development — especially in downtown Wheeling, where we would like to see it.”

Ferns said he and Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott have met with several developers interested in doing projects in the city.

“One of our best assets is our historic architecture,” Elliott said. “We have remarkable buildings, but a number of them are incredibly expensive to rehabilitate.”

One of these structures in Wheeling is the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Building at 1134 Market St., which encompasses over 144,000 square feet of space and stands 13 stories high. It opened in 1907.

“It has great bones, and is perfect for a residential build-out,” Elliott said. “But it needs a sprinkler system and other things most buildings do to be built up to code. It is one of the tallest buildings in West Virginia — and the tallest in Wheeling. Still, it is sitting empty. That is what so surprising.”

He said Steve Coon, president of Coon Restoration & Sealant of Canton, is interested in redeveloping the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Building. But without the increased historic tax credit, Coon “can’t make the numbers work,” according to Elliott.

Elliott said he has looked out from the roof of the structure.

“There is a view of the city that is amazing — there’s nothing quite like it,” he said. “In Manhattan, that building would be considered adorable.”

Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, said she also plans to reintroduce the bill in the House of Delegates next year.

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