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Orleans preservationists fear congressional threat to historic tax credit

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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

It is credited with driving more than 600 rebuilding projects in New Orleans over the past 40 years, and its future is in question. Local preservationists are sounding the alarm over a move being considered in Congress to eliminate much of an historic tax credit.

New Orleans' Warehouse District used to be run down and empty. Now it's dotted with complexes containing high-end condos, many of which were renovated with historic tax credits that helped write off 20 percent of construction costs. Those credits also fueled theater restorations at the Saenger, the Civic and the Carver.

"It's been essential. Without the national historic tax credit, a vast majority of the buildings that are back in commerce would either be empty or need to be restored," said Erin Holmes with the Preservation Resource Center.

Passed during the Reagan administration in 1981, the tax credit helped fund nearly $2 billion worth of construction in New Orleans, funding more than 655 projects, many of which were transformative. It helped fuel the building of new condos, shops and restaurants.

"The Rouse's (grocery store) is the poster child project.  The redevelopment of Rouse's shows how adaptive re-use can have a catalytic impact on an entire area," said Holmes.

Now, the historic tax credit that could provide tens of millions of dollars to projects like Charity Hospital and the World Trade Center is in jeopardy under a tax reform program making its way through congress.

"We know that the historic tax credit was removed from the House bill...and we are encouraging the House delegation to fight for it to be retained...on the senate side, it was reduced," said Holmes.

Preservationists believe cutting the credit would hurt the economy. Many projects have produced thousands of construction jobs and millions in tax dollars that might have otherwise gone elsewhere.

"Without this assistance, rents would go through the roof or the properties would just sit," said Michael Hecht with GNO Inc.

This week, DXC Technology announced it would bring 2,000 jobs to New Orleans, and the city's renaissance is seen as a driving factor.

"Without those tax credits, we wouldn't be sitting here today, we would not have DXC Technology...and you and I wouldn't likely be here, living in the great city of New Orleans," said Hecht.

Copyright 2017 WVUE. All rights reserved.

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