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A Decade of Persistence: General Assembly Expands Historic Preservation Tax Credit
Working closer than ever before with Landmarks Illinois and some great champions in the Capitol, this year AIA Illinois helped find the right mix of policy objectives and financial provisions to ensure the overwhelming passage of a needed state incentive to pair with the Federal Historic Tax Credit, which has been introduced annually in the Illinois General Assembly since 2009. With patient tenacity, on the tenth attempt, we have momentum like never before as SB3527 heads to Gov. Bruce Rauner's desk for consideration.

On the final day of the spring legislative session, the Illinois General Assembly passed the bill to improve and expand the existing River Edge Redevelopment Zone Historic Tax Credit (RERZ). The bill amends the RERZ to enhance its usability and establishes a new statewide Historic Preservation Tax Credit across Illinois. AIA Illinois and Landmarks Illinois and the American Institute of Architects-Illinois celebrate the passing of this important legislation. Both organizations supported this legislation and provided expertise on tax credit best practices for the bill authors.

“In order to find creative opportunities to put more investment in our communities, we need to maintain our competitive edge,” said Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, primary sponsor of the bill, as she presented the bill for passage on the House Floor. “We are looking to get more buildings back on the tax rolls in our communities. If we are going to be serious about turning the state around, we have to be serious about creating an environment where people can be successful and build a family.”

On May 31, 2018, the Illinois House voted 101-11-1 on the bill, and the Senate voted 51-0, showing nearly unanimous support for expanding the availability of state historic tax credits to historic reuse projects across Illinois. Authored by primary sponsors Sen. Steve Stadelman (D-Rockford) and Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth (D-Peoria), the bill amended existing RERZ language and expanded the program statewide. The RERZ program was established in 2012 as a five-year pilot allowing a 25 percent state income tax credit for qualifying projects that created jobs and revitalized vacant and blighted historic properties along riverfronts in Aurora, East St. Louis, Elgin, Peoria and Rockford. The bill clarified how the RERZ credit is applied to phased projects, establishes a carry-forward provision and better defines recapture events.

SB3527 also establishes a new statewide Illinois Historic Preservation Tax Credit. Historic preservation projects statewide that meet one of five targeted criteria and a project readiness test can apply for a 25 percent state income tax credit for qualified expenditures, up to $3 million in state credits per project. The Historic Preservation Division of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources will administer two application rounds annually to allocate the $15 million available per year. Credits will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis and applicants must reapply if not accepted. The program will be in effect from Jan. 1, 2019, through Dec. 31, 2023.

“The River Edge Tax Credit has a proven record of creating jobs and spurring economic development in Rockford,” said Sen. Steve Stadelman of the expanded program. “I look forward to its continued success statewide.”

The RERZ and Illinois Historic Preservation Tax Credit bills have been supported by Landmarks Illinois and the American Institute of Architects-Illinois since 2009. Both organizations provided language, testimony, research and expertise on tax credit best practices for the bill authors. Rep. Gordon-Booth referenced on the House Floor a 2013 study by Landmarks Illinois demonstrating the economic need for a state historic tax credit.

“For nine years, our coalition of architects and advocates championed the effectiveness of historic tax credits as a proven economic and community development incentive,” said Mike Waldinger, Hon. AIA, Executive Vice President of AIA Illinois. “It is so gratifying to see those efforts finally succeed, and we look forward to the transformative projects to come.”

“By an overwhelming majority, the Assembly has sent a bill to Governor Rauner that would open up communities statewide to additional private investment through a proven economic development and job-creation tool,” said Bonnie McDonald, President & CEO of Landmarks Illinois. “We thank the bill’s authors, sponsors, co-sponsors and supporters for ensuring this vital historic preservation incentive is available for all Illinois communities.”

Joining primary bill sponsor Sen. Steve Stadelman as sponsors are Sens. David Koehler, Chuck Weaver, Neil Anderson, Pamela J. Althoff, Cristina Castro and Jil Tracy. House sponsors joining primary sponsor Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth are Reps. LaToya Greenwood, Michael Halpin, Litesa E. Wallace, Nicholas K. Smith, Anna Moeller, Marcus C. Evans, Jr., Arthur Turner, Camille Y. Lilly, Linda Chapa LaVia, Steven A. Andersson, Tony McCombie, Norine K. Hammond, Joe Sosnowski and Carol Sente.

Sponsors were quick to comment on the bill’s merits:

Sen. Pamela Althoff (R-McHenry): “We all have places that help define where we are from. Sadly, many of them have had their best days in the past. By turning loose private investment, these places can have a brighter future and be landmarks for future generations as well.”

Sen. David Koehler (D-Peoria): “Peoria has been fortunate to lead the way for other communities in Illinois. We were the first to use this incentive at the Pere Marquette eight years ago and this new legislation will directly translate into a $100 million investment in redevelopment by OSF St. Francis that would not be possible otherwise.”

Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill): “On main streets and courthouse squares across the state, there are hidden historic gems waiting to be brought back to life and contribute to the life of their community. The tax credit program is our best way to see those projects happen and I’m proud to have supported them from the beginning.”

Rep. Michael Halpin (D-Rock Island): “We talk a lot about how to create jobs and compete with our neighboring states. This bill does exactly that. It attracts business investment that too often went across the river. A small investment in our local business community will return that money tenfold into our economy.”

Rep. David Harris (R-Mount Prospect): “I see many tax credit ideas brought to the legislature, and I was initially skeptical about this one for several reasons. However, my colleagues and the individuals who supported the idea made diligent efforts to address all of the concerns raised. This is how the process is designed to work, and I am hopeful the results will be as positive as talked about. I was pleased to give my support to this initiative.”

Rep. Steven Andersson (R-Geneva): “Historic Tax Credit projects are that rare win-win-win we look for. The design, construction and development team wins from the jobs created, the community wins by restoring a great local asset and the taxpayers win with a tremendous return on investment.”

Accolades for the bill sponsors came in from the mayors of their communities, as well:

Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara commended the legislative effort to improve the RERZ language. “The River Edge tax credit has truly spurred a rebirth of our downtown, which has helped inspire a renewed sense of pride for our residents. I truly appreciate Sen. Stadelman’s fierce advocacy for Rockford.”

“Bringing jobs and economic opportunity to Peoria will always be one of my top priorities,” said Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis. “I want to thank Rep. Gordon-Booth on her continued leadership on this issue. This legislation will help streamline the processes for businesses to take advantage of important economic resources to help Peoria grow.”

ABOUT THE AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF ARCHITECTS-ILLINOIS
Thanks to over 4,000 members, AIA Illinois is empowered to champion the profession of architecture and works with policymakers in pursuit of more vibrant places for every community. 

ABOUT LANDMARKS ILLINOIS
Landmarks Illinois is a membership-based nonprofit organization serving the people of Illinois. As the state’s leading voice for historic preservation, we inspire and empower people to save places for people by providing free guidance, practical and financial resources and access to strategic partnerships. Visit www.Landmarks.org to learn more.
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