Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Letter to Governor Henry

Dear Governor Henry,

I understand that you are currently reviewing a bill that would revoke state historic tax credits for developers. This would be a humongous loss for Oklahoma, economically. The losses to our state would be realized on two fronts, economically, and in terms of the historic buildings.

1. Just looking at the current list of building projects underway or about to become underway in Oklahoma that would qualify for historic tax credits, that is $185 million in rehab projects that infuses the economy and provides 3,700 jobs and a positive balance of $4.7 million in tax revenues (despite the tax credits, which are only 20%).

2. We also lose historic buildings with more character in them than anything that can be built new. We lose some seriously important character assets that make Oklahoma City and Tulsa the unique cities they are. These buildings will be demolished and paved over with parking lots because without the tax credits, rehabilitation of the buildings will not be economically viable. We lose an important growth asset as well. There is no difference in terms of new residents between 100 new tract homes built on former farmland and 100 new units inside a formerly abandoned unit. The only difference is that it can appeal to a segment of recent college grads that Oklahoma currently does not appeal to as well as other states, and this is a valuable economic argument as well--the priceless intrinsic value of urban development and historic buildings.

As for as incentives go, it is a much, much more efficient use of resources for the state to encourage historic redevelopment through these incentives than to get rid of the incentives and for us to only have sprawl for housing. Apparently myopic conservatives are willing to pay a HUGE subsidy in the way of new roads, new schools, new police and fire coverage, new water lines, power lines, sewer lines, and so on--for sprawl, but we are NOT willing to provide an alternative for smarter growth because we can't shell out the tax credit anymore.

I just can not believe what the conservatives running the state legislature have come up with now, in the interest of "saving money." I hope they realize the irrevocable damage they will do to our cities, our way of life, our state's downtowns, and so on. There are developers currently relying on getting these tax credits for projects already underway. I hope you will not let Oklahoma back out of its guarantee of these tax credits, leading to the financial ruin of everyone currently involved in historic preservation. It will send a message for a long time that historic rehab work in Oklahoma is not worth even considering, and after the moratorium is lifted, there will not be anyone remaining willing to take the chance on historic preservation again.

We will be up a creek, truly, if the moratorium is passed. I hope you will protect Oklahoma from this threat and veto the bill. Thank you very much, and for everyone thing you do.


For those who don't know, the tax credits that enable historic preservation projects in Oklahoma are currently under siege from the state capitol. The bill instituting a 2-year moratorium on historic tax credits was passed in the state legislature by people who obviously do not understand development nor economics. Letters can be sent to Governor Henry, who is currently reviewing the bill, here:



Paul said...

I appreciate your posts, as always. I really wish that lawmakers would take into account the costs of outward expansion that you point out in your post. True, building new on cheap land may seem really attractive but what about the infrastructure costs?

I remember when I first moved to the city that I was astounded by how it just went on and on and on and on. Mile after mile is like watching a loop. Homes on 1/4 to half acre plots or small two-story apartment complexes then a Walmart, Walgreens, Target, some various chain restaurants (with no less than one buffet), a grocery store, a pet store, car dealership, and maybe a Best Buy. Full stop. Repeat.

There are so many consequences to a thinly spread population, and demolishing structurally sound buildings for surface parking (which further encourages an already unsustainable way of life) only lessens our city's chance to plan meaningfully and therefore thrive in a world where the
young and affluent want pedestrian friendly living spaces in conjunction with the convenience and vivacity of an urban life.

Walker, Downtown Ranger said...

Indeed. If the state were smart, they would not just be looking at this recession, but looking ahead to future economic cycles and they would closely examine the out of pocket infrastructure costs that the government must be burdened with because of our unsustainable lifestyle.

That would be a perfect world--realistically, we're not asking for more funding that would save the state ad infiniti in the future. We just don't want the state to screw over the few developers who are responding positively to the growth in housing demand in OKC by reinvesting in the heart.

What we see here are clueless lawmakers planning for the press conference, and NOT for the budget, nor how to get the state past the recession in tact. They've reached this idiotic compromise placing a moratorium on all tax credits based on the premise of public popularity. They know that there will be guff and the TV news will do a "fair and balanced" piece and they'll send out their Capitol Beat reporter who will interview some preservationists affected by this, and then interview the Speaker of the House who will go up several opinion points by responding, "We had to make cuts somewhere. There were no attractive cuts, they were all bad cuts."

Here's the reality though: The state made absolutely no cuts to transportation funding and police funding. We can do without some of these speed traps and beefed up patrol units and public safety won't suffer from a systemic crash in the same way that renigging already-guaranteed tax credits to preservationists would cause a systemic and unrecoverable crash for historic rehabilitation construction projects. We can go without some of the road widening projects that just encourage more sprawl and more future funding problems. We could even consider reforming our sentencing structures and decriminalizing some ridiculous minor offenses and realize enormous penal system savings. But NOOO--then lawmakers would have to own up to questions that can only be answered by thinking, and not just vagueries..