Historic expertise at close reach for local residents, businesses

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 23, 2004

Virginians who restored homes or

businesses in historic

districts last year received more than $20 million in state tax breaks, and Hampton Roads residents are not getting their fair share of the breaks.

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According to Paige Weiss, architectural historian with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, that’s probably because few people have the time or expertise to navigate the often-cumbersome paperwork that is required.

Weiss spoke Wednesday afternoon to a meeting of the Downtown Business Association and offered advice on qualifying for both state and federal incentives that are available.

She also said that one of the biggest mistakes people make is failing to research what is available and how to qualify for it before beginning a project. She said it’s not uncommon to encounter someone who is halfway through a project and finds that they did not do something correctly in order to qualify for the tax breaks.

&uot;Let us know what you are going to do before starting work,&uot; Weiss said.

Property owners can qualify for federal tax breaks equal to 20 percent of the rehabilitation costs and state tax breaks equal to 25 percent. To be eligible for federal grants, it’s required that the rehabilitated property produce income, either through business or rent. The state has no such requirement. Other stipulations are that the property must be a contributing structure to a historic district or be a historic building itself.

Local developer Mickey Garcia, who rehabilitated College Court as well as other historic Suffolk properties, had high praise for the program and noted that he’s currently working on a project in Portsmouth for which he’s qualifying for state and federal breaks as well as enterprise zone inducements that will total about 85 percent of the project’s cost.

Garcia noted that few people are in a tax bracket where they can fully utilize the full value of their breaks and for those people, syndicating the tax breaks can be an attractive option.

Weiss explained that the state tax credits can be &uot;syndicated&uot; to investors, who will pay around 65 cents on the dollar for state tax credits.

The state program has been in place since 1997, but really took off this year, Weiss said, noting that the bulk of the Granby Street work in Norfolk was tax credit work.

Weiss, a Suffolk native, will be leaving state employment in October and in January will open up shop in Suffolk as a consultant, helping people with paperwork and obtaining historic designations for properties and neighborhoods.

She has purchased the old Brewer Jewelry building, 154 to 156 West Washington, and after restoring it, plans to put an apartment or office on the second floor and rent out the ground floor.