Investing in Greater Cincinnati's past: Leaders celebrate success of tax credit program

Tri-State has won nearly $71M since 2007

CORRECTION: The original version of this story included information provided by the State of Ohio that was incorrect. The story has been updated with the accurate information.

CINCINNATI – History is big business in Greater Cincinnati.

At least, historic preservation is.

Nearly $71 million in Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits have flowed to the region since the Ohio Development Services Agency began issuing them in 2007, according to state records provided to WCPO.

Those credits have been the financial lifeblood of 56 projects and hundreds of millions of dollars in revitalization ranging from condos in Over-the-Rhine to the new 21c Museum Hotel downtown to sprucing up the Golden Lamb in Lebanon.

State and local officials celebrated those results Tuesday with a morning program at the 21c and an afternoon hard-hat tour of four projects in Over-the-Rhine made possible by the state tax credits.

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“Historic preservation is so important to our history, to the fabric of our city, but this is about redevelopment and economic development,” said Stephen Leeper, CEO of the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. , or 3CDC, the nonprofit tasked with Over-the-Rhine’s rebirth.

Leeper knows first-hand. He said 3CDC has redeveloped about 100 buildings using $29 million worth of the state tax credits, resulting in more than $250 million worth of completed development projects.

“But for that, the progress that you’ve seen would have never happened,” he said. “It has been a God-send to us.”

Bulk Of Credits Have Gone To Over-The-Rhine

Most of the projects that have received credits since 2007 – 36 of them – are located in Cincinnati’s historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood just north of downtown. Developments in Northside, Walnut Hills, Hamilton and Lebanon have won the credits, too.

The money has helped developers bring new life to old buildings and communities, noted Mary Cusick, chief of TourismOhio. That helps draw visitors from Ohio and outside the state, she said.

She noted that Ohio Development Services Agency Director David Goodman and Gov. John Kasich often talk about making Ohio cool.

“The thing about cool is you can’t make something cool. It has to be intrinsically cool,” she said. “And being cool is authentic.”

Historic districts have the authenticity that other places are trying to recreate, she said.

And historic preservation tax credits play a critical role in that work, developers said Tuesday.

The state credits can be used in conjunction with federal historic preservation tax credits, said Kevin Pape, president of Gray & Pape, Inc. , a historic preservation firm. He’s also president of the board of the Over-the-Rhine Foundation , which is focused on preservation.

“Honestly, the revitalization work in Over-the-Rhine and other historic communities around the state couldn’t be done without the tax credit,” Pape said.

Pape and his wife, Kimberly Starbuck, are renovating the Crown Building at Elder and Elm streets in Over-the-Rhine, just across the street from Findlay Market.

The $1.43 million project got an Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit of $279,470, which Pape said made the project possible.

That’s true of all the historic preservation projects that receive the credits, said Steven Bloomfield of Bloomfield/Schon + Partners , the company responsible for redevelopment of the American Can Building and Kirby Road School, both in Northside.

“These projects just do not pencil out without public assistance of some sort, and this is a very efficient way of getting money to do these projects,” Bloomfield said. “These are private investors who believe in the projects, and the state incentivizes and the federal government incentivizes them to invest in cities, which they might not normally do.”

Added Pape: “It’s the great equalizer.”

That doesn’t mean developers rake in lots of profit once the projects are complete, said Jeanne Rehling-Golliher, CEO of the Cincinnati Development Fund .

'It's The Stories'

For nearly 25 years, the Cincinnati Development Fund has helped finance redevelopment projects in Over-the-Rhine, particularly those done by pioneering developers who invest their own time and money into buildings they love.

Those developers typically spend far more to bring the buildings back to life than they can earn back from them in the short term. Still, she said, they stick with the projects.

“What we learned during the recession, we did not lose one dime to that kind of developer,” she said. “The people who did it because they loved the building, the people who invested their blood, sweat and tears, they didn’t walk away if they were underwater. They stuck with it.”

That kind of long-term commitment to buildings and the neighborhoods where they are located happens because the historic structures are more than just property, Pape said.

“At the end of the day, that’s really what makes the difference between these kinds of projects and other developments. It’s the stories,” he said. “The buildings are just that. But the

people who inhabited them and used those buildings for great purposes, the stories are just amazing. And that’s what resonates with people.”

To read more stories by Lucy May, go to www.wcpo.com/may . Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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