Tax Reform and Downtown Rehabilitation

From South Boston to Winchester, St. Paul to Norfolk, many of our Virginia communities have seen significant revitalization as a result of the Federal Historic Tax Credits (HTC). In many cases, if not most cases, rehabilitation of historic structures counts on this funding to make those projects work – and the credits are slated for elimination in the Tax Reform proposal under consideration.

Masonic Theatre, Clifton Forge, VA

The rehabilitation, re-use, and preservation of Virginia’s historic buildings is good for the commonwealth’s economy, according to a recent study conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University.  During a 17-year period, nearly $1 billion in tax credits leveraged almost $3 billion in private investment, resulting in the reuse of 2,375 buildings, ranging from warehouses, hotels, and theaters.

Where do you go for more, so you can put this economic development tool to good use?  Let me introduce you to your partners:

Here are your administrative partners.  While the National Park Service ultimately approves the federal Historic Tax Credit, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR) acts as the “gatekeeper”, administering both the federal and state tax credit programs. All applications go through DHR first and they also provide technical assistance.

Here are your advocacy partners. The National Trust for Historic Preservation and its subsidiary the National Main Street Center, a proven leader of preservation-based economic development, both work to educate national and local community leaders about its value. Your local preservation advocacy partner, Preservation Virginia, promotes this development tool, too.

Rehabilitated Masonic Theatre, Clifton Forge, VA

Virginia Enterprise Zone 2013 Designation Round

DHCD’s Virginia Enterprise Zone (VEZ) program has just finished facilitating three regional how-to-apply workshops to spread the word about the upcoming designation round.  On October 1, 2012, the program will begin accepting applications to fill the positions of two zones that are due to expire at the end of this year.

Much like VMS, the Enterprise Zone program is a partnership between state and local government that can be an effective tool in stimulating job creation, private investment and revitalization in your community, especially when promoted as part of a comprehensive package of economic development efforts.  In fact, several Main Street communities currently have EZ designations.  To see which ones, check out the VEZ Map.

To learn more about how the Enterprise Zone program could become an instrument in your community’s economic development toolbox, visit the Enterprise Zone website or contact Lauren Fink at

Virginia Tech Students Help Green Businesses Emerge in Floyd

Floyd, Virginia is a small rural town located along the Blue Ridge Parkway. It has a reputation as an artistic community with a rich sense of place. Maintaining its unique character and scale while fostering a vibrant downtown requires foresight, planning and creative community development.  Recently, four Virginia Tech students embarked on a project to help develop and attract new sustainable businesses that uniquely match the community.

The project began in a class called Economic Development Studio at Virginia Tech. The class gives urban planning graduate students a chance to engage the community and undertake real-world development projects. In 2009, the focus was on green building.

The students began with a create-from-within approach. They wanted to boost the local economy with help from only local people and resources. After talking to the community, they determined that promoting economic development, reducing environmental impacts, and improving social well-being were the key goals.

Eventually, the students developed four business recommendations that they presented to Floyd County—a wood pellet manufacturer, a micro-dairy (small-scale dairy specializing in simple cheeses), flooring and countertops manufacturing, and a “sustainable living” training and education center.

The town of Floyd is currently considering which, if any, of the business proposals are most viable. However, even if none of them are adopted, the research the students have done has stimulated interest in sustainable economies and provided a foundation for development within the community.

The Economic Development Studio project builds on a number of existing efforts the town of Floyd is making to improve sustainable development. The organization SustainFloyd sponsors a number of long-term projects, both independently and in conjunction with national programs such as Farm-to-School. For more information, please visit SustainFloyd’s Web site.

Getting serious about downtown entrepreneurship

Don Macke at the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship just sent out a summary of takeaways from an Economic Development Survey undertaken by the National League of Cities and the International County/City Management Association (ICMA). 

The Center, an initiative of the Rural Policy Research Intsitiute (RUPRI)consistently puts out substantive resources for supporting entrepreneurial development.  Sign up here for their newsletter.

The summary aligns with our ongoing preparations for  “Cultivating and Entreprenurial Downtown,” the Virginia Main Street Toolkit training set for July 22 and 23 in Franklin. Here are Don’s takeaways:

1.  Too many communities do not really have an economic development strategy that they are aggressively supporting.

2.  The dominant focus of economic development is still business attraction and industrial development.  Serious support of entrepreneur-focused economic development is very limited.

3.   Economic development efforts continue to be fractured across local governments, chambers, development corporations, main street programs, tourism groups and the like.  Comprehensive and integrated efforts are still too rare despite the regionally-focused development seen in competing nations.

4.   There are exceptions and a growing number of communities that are very committed to economic development, investing aggressively and smartly, and beginning to really focus on entrepreneurs as a core strategy to grow their economies. 

There’s more to think about in the report, and at the July training, we’ll spend a day and a half addressing strategies that can help you make your community an exception.