Is this building historic? Designation May Lead To Ohio, Federal Tax Credits Go Far Beyond Appearances


CLEVELAND, Ohio – A 22-story steel-and-concrete building in Public Square may not seem historically significant at first glance. Nor a small building of eight units in the Glenville district of the city.

Nonetheless, in the eyes of state and federal governments, they are “historic” or at least part of an area considered historic. This designation was a requirement of the $ 35.9 million historic preservation tax credits the state of Ohio recently granted to them and others.

Some of the choices may surprise the casual observer. But Conservatives would be the first to say that the importance of a building, which can lead to a designation which in turn can help qualify for tax breaks on home improvement projects, is not always what it looks like . Sometimes it may not be the individual building at all, but rather its connection to a larger area given the designation.

Take 55 Public Square, the former home of the Illuminating Co., a silver building on the northwest side of Public Square whose signature features may appear to be the name “First National Bank” at the top left, and a large “55” on the right.

The project to renovate the building and turn the lower half into apartments received a $ 5 million tax credit from the State Development Services Agency, the largest among all projects that received the credits in the last round. The credit is part of a financial package of $ 59.2 million.

The building itself, which dates from 1958 and is representative of the “international” style that some architects of the time preferred, is not listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Instead, it’s part of the Historic Euclid Avenue District, designated as such in 2002 because of its historic connection to Cleveland’s architecture, transportation, and economy.

But buildings end up on lists like the National Register for a variety of reasons. There may be a connection to a famous event, a notable former occupant, or a good example of a notable architectural design period, among other reasons.

“Personal taste (on architecture) has nothing to do with it,” said Kathleen Crowther, executive director and president of the Cleveland Restoration Society.

Hit or miss

Whatever the reason, building owners and developers frequently seek such a designation in order to qualify for national or historic tax credits.

Often, developers describe these tax breaks as a key part of a bigger financial package and say that not getting them could spell the end of the project.

For example, preservation consultant Heather Rudge, who worked with CHN Housing Partners on an unsuccessful effort to secure a landmark $ 1.3 million state tax credit in the last round for a plan to transforming the former St. Michael’s School in Tremont into senior housing, said the incentive is integral to moving the project forward.

She added that the project has already received federal tax credits.

The Agora theater and the ballroom.

To be designated

But whatever the reason, the key word is “historical”, and it is not simply referred to as such by a building owner who wants tax relief. Instead, these designations are made by cities or the federal government.

The best known way is to be registered in the national register. The list, overseen by the National Parks Service, is designed to preserve buildings that have some significance to the nation’s past. The buildings are generally at least 50 years old.

The National Registry’s website says its mission is to list eligible properties after “nominations that Americans believe are worthy of preservation submitted by states, tribes and other federal agencies and to list eligible properties.”

This, in turn, helps homeowners looking to rehabilitate or renovate a building reap the “preservation benefits and incentives,” the site says, which usually means tax credits.

A single building or property can have its own listing, or it can be part of a neighborhood of several buildings. In Ohio, National Register applications are routed through the State Historic Preservation Office, which is part of the Ohio History Connection organization.

Megan Nagy, a spokesperson for the Development Services Agency, said in an email that enrolling in the National Registry is the most common way applicants seeking Ohio tax credits to obtain the historic designation, adding that developers often seek state and federal incentives at the same time. .

The other way to get the designation is to ask a “certified local government” to designate a building or neighborhood as a local landmark. In Cleveland, for example, these fall under the jurisdiction of the Landmarks Commission.

These benchmarks are also eligible for tax breaks, but only state tax breaks.

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Erieview Tower.Eric Heisig,

This building?

These processes have resulted in buildings or areas that many may not consider “historic” ending with the special designation. Scrolling through the list of projects that received the latest tax credits – along with extensive use of Google to find photos – shows a plethora of buildings that receive such tax credits. They extend far beyond what many might consider historic places.

In Cleveland on the last round, a $ 250,000 break was given to Midtown, a complex attached to the Agora Theater concert hall – not the theater itself, which is actually the second Agora site after the fire. from the first to the mid-1980s. A small apartment building near the Glenville Cultural Gardens received a loan of $ 159,000.

The latter building qualifies because it is part of the historic district of the East Boulevard National Register, important for its early 20th-century layout and residential architectural style. The first is seeking entry into the National Register as it is the former home of WHK-AM Studio One.

Rudge, owner of the Historic Preservation Group consulting firm in Cleveland, noted that how a building or area is considered historically significant is also reflected in the goals of historic federal and state tax credits.

She said the state program takes into consideration the economic impact of a project, not the importance of the building. In other words, state officials rank projects higher if renovations are touted as bringing more tax revenue through well-paying jobs and residents paying market-rate rents.

“You could have a historic building and a Frank Lloyd Wright warehouse similarly looked at by (the state),” Rudge said, referring to the famous architect.

The federal system is the opposite, with the importance of the building taking center stage, she said.

Time change

But in terms of aesthetics, as the years went by and many buildings from the 1950s and 1960s began to qualify based on their age, the National Parks Service and the State showed a “very strong appreciation … for the style of mid-century modern architecture, “said Rudge. She cited Erieview Tower, a 40-foot steel skyscraper completed in 1964, as an example. The building was listed on the National Register in 2017.

Much like the heavy concrete Brutalist structures that were built between the 1950s and 1970s, often for government buildings and university housing, office buildings evoke a bygone era.

“The registry is not to assess beauty, it is to recognize historic buildings,” Crowther said.

Yet even some conservatives can have their limits.

“When a suburban neighborhood from the 1970s gets listed on the national registry, I’m going to change jobs,” Rudge joked.

Read more:

55 Public Square Complex and Agora Theater Renovations Earn Historic Ohio Tax Credits

Cleveland Landmarks Commission OK plan to turn the former Catholic school in Tremont into housing for low-income seniors

Sale of office building connected to Agora Theater in Cleveland, new owners plan to add apartments

Cleveland skyscraper and church renovation projects benefit from state historic preservation tax credits

Ohio Board of Directors recommends Tower at Erieview for National Register of Historic Places

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