Mike Bedenbaugh's message to the Historic Aiken Foundation was simple: Take advantage of the Abandoned Buildings Revitalization Act. The executive director of The Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation spoke to the local organization during its fall meeting on Sunday afternoon at St. Thaddeus Episcopal Church.
“For the empty buildings here, there are incentives to bring them back into use,” Bedenbaugh said.
Gov. Nikki Haley signed the Revitalization Act into law in June. Under its provisions, any commercial building that has at least 66 percent vacancy for more than five years qualifies for a 25 percent state income tax credit earned against the costs of rehabilitation.
“The reason we did the 66 percent is because a lot of small towns have these three-story buildings where the retail space on the ground floor has always been occupied, but the other two floors have been empty,” Bedenbaugh said. “We're real excited about that.”
The Revitalization Act's 25 percent tax credit can be used along with the 30 percent Historic Preservation tax credit if the building qualifies for the National Register of Historic Places. This means that up to 55 percent of rehabilitation costs can be recaptured through tax credits.
In a study commissioned by the Palmetto Trust, the Regional Dynamics & Economic Modeling Laboratory at Clemson's Strom Thurmond Institute found that every dollar of tax credit spent would generate an additional $19 to $21 in South Carolina's economic output. For every $500,000 of tax credits earned by developers, 100 to 150 new jobs would be created.
The Abandoned Buildings Revitalization Act's 25 percent tax credit also can be used for redevelopment projects involving empty big-box store spaces and vacant strip malls, according to Bedenbaugh.
“It will work for those, too,” he said.
In addition, Bedenbaugh offered some recommendations to his audience about how to approach the challenge of saving historic buildings.
“Don't let the distraction of money get in the way,” he said. “Whenever we go into a room, the first thing everybody says is 'Well, we have no money.' It stops conversation. But money is an amazing thing. Money automatically flows to wherever there is a need for it to be. When you set goals and make the plans, it's amazing how the money shows up. If you sit there and say, 'We don't have any money,' you never will. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Patience and cooperation also are important, according to Bedenbaugh.
“It's all about a community working together to make sure that everybody has a chance to come out ahead,” he said. “It's about negotiation and conversation that respect what everybody needs out of the process.”
Bedenbaugh gave an example of a historic building that was located on the site where a Walmart store was scheduled to be built.
“The easiest thing in the world would have been for us to have a knee-jerk reaction and say, 'We don't want Walmart tearing down old buildings,' ” he said. “But we were able to work with Walmart and work with the developers. Walmart ended up giving us a $50,000 donation to help move the building.”
Founded in 1990, the Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation is based in Columbia. Its mission is to preserve and protect South Carolina's historic structures.
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013.