Downtown historic district could grow

Expansion could help owners get tax credits to fund restoration

Proposed removal of the 1970s brick facade on the former Gables Building, now M&T Bank, to expose the original facade could make the structure along 11th Avenue eligible for tax credit funding, thus allowing it to become a contributing structure within the existing historic district, said Jane Sheffield, executive director of the Allegheny Ridge Corp. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

Local officials are working with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission on the possible expansion of the downtown historic district.

Jane Sheffield, executive director of the Allegheny Ridge Corp., was planning to show PHMC officials the prospective new area, a prospective new building outside the downtown and a prospective new contributing structure within the existing district — which is roughly between 10th and 15th avenues and 10th and 13th streets, plus blocks of Lexington and Howard avenues to the north and 11th and 12th avenues to the south.

The proposed expansion — to add areas along 12th Avenue north of the clock tower at the foot of the 17th Street Bridge — could help owners secure tax credits to help fund restoration projects, according to officials.

Five or six buildings may be eligible to become contributing structures, most of whose owners are considering certified historical rehabilitations, Sheffield said.

Tax credit eligibility requires that a building be on or at least eligible for the National Historic Register or be a contributing structure in a historic district, according to Patrick Miller, CEO of the Greater Altoona Economic Development Corp.

The Jaffa Shrine along Broad Avenue could be declared eligible for an individual listing in the National Historic Register. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

Federal tax credits can cover up to 20 percent of the costs of rehabilitations that maintain the historic integrity of a structure, Miller said.

State tax credits can cover up to 25 percent, Miller said.

Owners that can’t use those credits to reduce their own tax obligations can sell them, usually at 91 or 92 cents on the dollar, Miller said.

There is currently $3 million in the state’s tax credit fund, Sheffield said.

Legislation has been proposed to increase that to

$30 million, she said.

One advantage of tax credit funding is that it doesn’t trigger the requirement to pay prevailing wages for projects, as grant funding does, Miller said.

Prevailing wages add 25 to 30 percent to costs of projects in central Pennsyl­vania, Miller said.

There is a possibility that the Jaffa Shrine could be declared eligible for an individual listing in the National Historic Register, a listing for which the owners would need to apply, Sheffield said.

There is also a possibility that the proposed removal of the 1970s brick facade of the Gables Building to expose the original facade would be eligible for tax credit funding, thus allowing the building to become a contributing structure within the existing historic district, according to Miller and Sheffield.

The proposed new historic district expansion would add an area that was part of an expansion request that the PHMC partially granted in 2004, according to Sheffield.

The PHMC at that time approved two blocks on 11th and 12th avenues to take in the buildings that now house Saleme Insurance Services, Bill Sell’s Bold restaurant, Kerr Kreations Floral & Gift Shoppe, the Vipond building, the former Penn Furniture store and the First Lutheran Church, Sheffield said.

The proposed new area southwest of that would include the derelict former Christ Reformed Church near the police station, Sheffield said.

“I have requested that the PHMC take another look at what we proposed (before 2004),” Sheffield said.

It’s an informal request, she said.

Ultimately, it would be up to the city to make a formal one, she said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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