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Tax credit bill could help historic downtowns

By Jessica Arp, jarp@wisctv.com
Published On: Oct 17 2013 06:39:54 PM CDT
Updated On: Oct 17 2013 09:28:34 PM CDT

Downtown Darien

MADISON, Wis. -

A bill to help redevelop historic buildings in the state has passed the state Assembly.

The Special Session bill doubles the tax credit available for redeveloping buildings built before 1936.

The bill is designed to help some large pending projects in the communities of Racine and Green Bay, but smaller towns are also looking at how the financial incentive could help revitalize their downtown.

In some ways, downtown Darien looks like it did decades ago with the brick facades of nearly century-old buildings standing in testament to times gone by.

The businesses those buildings had are only recently returning. Jeff Larson has been making Bubba J's pizza since April.

"It's an area that people are looking for growth," said Larson. "People are looking for it to be what it used to be."

The short section of Wisconsin Street in Darien was named a "historic district" in May, which would make it eligible now for tax credits considered by the legislature that would credit owners 20 percent of the cost to fix up an old building.

"Which is really important to some of the owners because they don't have the funds available," said Diana Dykstra, village administrator of Darien. "Increasing that along with the federal tax credits could give them the benefit they need to pay for their entire project."

That's good news to Ron Bigelow, who has a stake in two of the buildings on the block.

"Any kind of help like that, you know we'd have to take it," said Bigelow. "You could take an old town like this and restore it the way it was. I've been here all my life from 5 years old until now and there have been some big changes. There's nothing rolling through this town now. So if you got some revenue like this coming in, I don't think it would take much to get this town going again."

That's a warming thought to Larson, who said the credit would help him put new windows in his business.

"It would make the image look nicer and all the buildings in the area look a lot nicer," said Larson.

The bill is estimated to cost the state around $8.6 million in the next two years, but lawmakers admit that is only an estimate and it could be much more costly if the credits are as popular as some expect.

The measure requires a report to the legislature's budget committee on its effectiveness and the program will be reviewed in 2015.

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