Minnesota Opinion: Rectify a wrong: Renew state historic tax credit

From the editorial: "Minnesotans eager for the program’s roaring engine of economic development and historic preservation can insist that lawmakers bring it back."

St. Louis County Jail
After nearly being demolished in 2010, the former St. Louis County jail has reopened in downtown Duluth as a 33-unit apartment building. The state's historic tax credit program helped make the renovation viable.
Duluth News Tribune file photo

In just a little over a decade, Minnesota’s state historic tax credit program helped save more than 170 historically significant buildings statewide ... It also helped account for 29,000 jobs and helped pump more than $6 billion into Minnesota’s economy.

Minnesota Opinion editorial
Minnesota Opinion editorial
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In spite of so much success and so much good, (the 2022’s) do-little Legislature dropped the ball and failed to renew and continue the program. Legislative inaction allowed it to expire in June.

“Shockingly unacceptable,” a Duluth News Tribune editorial scolded.

“A surprising lapse in leadership,” one of the developers of the renovation in Duluth of the historic St. Louis County jail into apartments — a project that wouldn’t have been possible without the historic tax credit program — said in an interview this week with the Duluth News Tribune Opinion page.

This year’s Legislature can rectify the wrong. Minnesotans eager for the program’s roaring engine of economic development and historic preservation can insist that lawmakers bring it back.


Bills were introduced just this week in both the Minnesota House and Senate to relaunch the program. House authors include Reps. Liz Olson and Alicia Kozlowski of Duluth. A third bill to repeal the expiration was introduced earlier this session. Committee hearings are being scheduled. There’s plenty of bipartisan support. In addition, Gov. Tim Walz last month included $20.9 million in his budget recommendation for the historic tax credit program.

“We were given a full paragraph treatment (from the governor) about why renewing … is essential to supporting families across Minnesota. That is really significant,” Brian Stephenson, a spokesman for RevitalizeMN , a nonprofit coalition that supports the program, said to the Opinion page this week.

The renewal can’t be allowed to get lost in flashier headlines emerging this session from St. Paul, including legalizing recreational marijuana and codifying abortion. The tax credit program has already proven its worth, returning nearly $10 for every $1 invested by the state. Its resurrection deserves swift passage.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Stephenson said. “We lose, on average, more than $1 million a day by not having the historic tax credit in place. It’s a startling number. In the last 12 years since it’s been in place, it has generated more than $6 billion in economic activity. And so if you break that down on a day-by-day (basis), it is really considerable.”

State and federal tax credits accounted for about a third of the approximately $8.5 million spent to renovate the county jail building, tucked behind Duluth City Hall and the federal courthouse along Second Street, according to developer Jon Commers.

“There really is no question that the state historic tax credit was fundamentally essential to moving that project forward. Without that, we just would not have been able to assemble the capital,” he said. “It is emblematic of a whole bunch of structures across the state. There are community benefits and environmental benefits. There are economic benefits associated with reusing these structures. But the dollars involved in bringing them back online does often exceed what a typical private-sector investor is going to be willing to commit. Having these tools … to get over that hump, it’s essential.”

Minnesota's historic tax credit was created in 2010 during the "Great Recession" to help put people to work while also saving important and historically significant structures, those places that preserve our past and tell our communities' stories. State and federal historic tax credits can cover up to 20% each of a project's costs, making many projects feasible.

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In Duluth, efforts to rehabilitate the historic Armory on London Road, where a young Bob Dylan found inspiration at a Buddy Holly concert, hinge on the renewal of the tax credit program. The renovation of Historic Old Central High School is using the credits. Other Duluth projects that have benefited or were made possible include Oliver Traphagen's residence, Greysolon Plaza, the old YWCA building, Duluth's old City Hall on East Superior Street, Munger Terrace, the Carnegie Library on West Second Street, and the NorShor Theatre.


“A majority of states have a historic tax credit,” Stephenson pointed out. “Minnesota not being one of them, any developer that would be interested in coming here to do a project … all of a sudden is looking elsewhere. So we are losing potential business for something that is a remarkable economic engine (and) that allows communities to kind of retain their beloved landmarks. … A lot of these developers are national, and if they can’t do their work here, who’s to say the amount of other work they end up not doing in Minnesota?”

The state can’t afford another day without a historic tax credit program. It’s on lawmakers and the governor to rectify the wrong that allowed the program to go away.

This Minnesota Opinion editorial is the viewpoint of the Duluth News Tribune. Send feedback to:

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