How old buildings can bring a city new life

Restoring dilapidated historic buildings for affordable housing and commercial use spurs the local economy and creates jobs. Selling historic preservation and low-income housing tax credits to investors enables non-profit developers to make such projects financially sustainable, resulting in a win-win for everyone. Just ask Gary Beasley, who as executive director of the non-profit Neighbors of Watertown, Inc., has spearheaded $31.2 million worth of historic building rehabs in the northern New York city and nearby municipalities.

Beasley was the final presenter at the Preservation League of New York State’s day-long session, “Enhancing Main Street: Making Upper Floors Work Again,” which was held at the Kirkland on Nov. 18 and was a stimulating primer on how fixing up run-down old buildings and creating historic districts is a way to boost business and create needed housing, as well as beautify the town. Supported by the Friends of Historic Kingston, the Rural Ulster Preservation Company (whose restoration of the Kirkland is a model of all the League’s points), the City of Kingston and other sponsors and funded by the Empire State Development Corporation, the program drove home the opportunities that exist for revitalizing faded-but-historic commercial areas, the prime local example being the Broadway corridor in Kingston.

Other presentations were “The Advantages of Historic District Designation,” by William Krattinger, a historic preservation program analyst at the state Office of Historic Preservation, “How the Building Code and Preservation Work Together” by Joseph Fama, executive director of Troy Architectural Program, and “The New York Main Street Grant Program,” by Crystal Loffler, community developer at the state agency Homes and Community Renewal. But it was Beasley’s talk, which described what his group had done to successful rehab a number of white elephants into viable mixed-use developments, that left some audience members wowed — and fired up about the possibilities for Kingston.


Beasley punctured some stereotypes, such as equating folks who qualify for low-income housing as the nonworking poor. The eligible are those who have a household income 60 to 80 percent of the region’s median income, which includes middle-income people, he said. “It’s not ‘those people’ but us,” Beasley said. “We need to throw labels out the window.”

Tax credits key

The essential tool employed by Neighbors of Watertown to attract investors is the federal and state historic preservation tax credits, which cumulatively cover 40 percent of the project’s cost. For the federal credit, the building has to be located in a registered National Historic District and be contributing to the value of the district — i.e., it can’t be a 1960s McDonald’s — or it must be listed on the National Register. A building has to be eligible for the federal credit in order to qualify for the state credit. A third credit, the 9 percent federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, applies if a portion of the building will be rehabbed for non-subsidized affordable housing.

(Featured image, a drawing by Alan Baer of what a portion of Broadway could look like in the future.)

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