Leahy Presses Tax Credit Incentives To Promote Safety And Conserve And Improve Historic Properties

. . . Vermont legacy buildings face rehab and safety challenges

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy Wednesday introduced legislation to improve the safety and accessibility of historic buildings in Vermont and across the country. 

Modeled after Vermont’s own Downtown and Village Center Tax Credit Program, the Historic Downtown Preservation and Access Act will establish tax incentives for building owners to install fire sprinklers and elevators in historic multi-use buildings.

The bill introduction comes ahead of Thursday’s annual Vermont Downtown and Historic Preservation Conference. 

First introduced in the wake of devastating fires in the historic downtowns of Springfield, St. Johnsbury, and Brattleboro, Vermont, the Leahy-authored bill will help communities manage the high cost burden of installing property- and life-saving devices, as well as costs incurred by the removal of deadly substances found in many historic properties, including lead paint, asbestos and radon.

Leahy said:  “Historic buildings are part of Vermont’s legacy.  They anchor many of our historic town centers.  I have often heard from communities across our state about the challenges of bringing cherished historic structures up to code, due to high costs.  As town managers, developers, and residents look to preserve historic villages, improving accessibility and avoiding calamitous damages from fire remain clear and present concerns.  The tangible help offered in this bill is intended to ensure that our most cherished and iconic Vermont historical landmarks remain safe and accessible.”

Preservationists, developers and public safety experts cite fire suppression systems as a key to prevent the loss of life, reduce property damage, and prevent high costs to taxpayers to rebuild burned buildings.  Leahy through this bill also aims to improve accessibility in multi-story historic centers by incentivizing the construction of elevators, which will allow the development of the upper floors of multi-story buildings. 

Federal tax credits help to stimulate private investment, create jobs, restore historic buildings and jump start the revitalization often seen in Vermont’s historic village centers.  As Congress mulls comprehensive tax reform, Leahy intends to push for inclusion of his Historic Downtown Preservation and Access Act.

Of the bill introduction, Mike Schirling, Vermont Secretary of Commerce and Community Development, said:  “The Historic Downtown Preservation and Access Act proposed by Senator Leahy would be a major stimulator in strengthening the economic growth of Vermont’s historic villages and downtowns.  This legislation fills a critical financing gap needed to spark redevelopment of our underutilized buildings and ensures that our historic buildings, and their occupants, are protected from the threat of fire and that they are fully accessible to all who use them.  Protecting and maintaining historic buildings honors our past as we look to the future with economic vitality in downtowns of all sizes that are safe and desirable places to live and work.”

Paul Bruhn, Executive Director of the Preservation Trust of Vermont added:  “Our working downtowns are threatened by a variety of challenges – sprawl, deferred maintenance, changing consumer trends. But no threat looms larger than the all-too often downtown fire.  When Vermont’s downtowns lose a centuries old building to fire, we lose part of our history and our future. The Historic Downtown Preservation and Access Act tackles this very real threat head on.”

Tom Cassidy, Vice President, Government Relations and Policy, National Trust for Historic Preservation said:  “Older, smaller buildings in Main Streets are central to the economic and cultural vitality of large and small communities across America. Senator Leahy’s proposal would help keep these structures safe so they can remain in active use and be enjoyed by residents, tourists and generations to come. We applaud the Senator’s leadership and sustained commitment to preserve historic communities in Vermont and the nation.”

Conserving Vermont’s historic legacy has long been a priority for Leahy.  Leahy and Bruhn, longtime partners in historic preservation in Vermont, also worked together to produce and secure funding for the Village Revitalization Initiative, under which nearly $2.5 million in federal funding was secured by Leahy through his work on the Senate Appropriations Committee to rehabilitate 27 historic community buildings in the hearts of 25 Vermont town centers.  This investment played a crucial role in leveraging nearly $27 million toward total project costs.  This Village Revitalization Initiative garnered the National Advisory Council on Historic Preservation’s (ACHP) Chairman’s Award for Achievement in Historic Preservation, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation Richard H. Driehaus Award in 2011 and 2014.

Additional testimonials from Vermont organizations can be found HERE.  The text of the Historic Downtown Preservation and Access Act can be found HERE.  A fact sheet about the bill can be found HERE.

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693