PHOTO: The historic Franklin Theatre as maintained and restored by the Heritage Foundation / Photo courtesy of the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County
By ALEXANDER WILLIS
The Heritage Foundation of Williamson County held an open panel discussion Monday night at the historic Franklin Theatre, urging residents to be more proactive in historical preservation efforts, as well as pushing for Tennessee to institute a form of historic preservation tax credit.
A historic preservation tax credit is an incentive program that grants up to a 20 percent income tax credit towards the “rehabilitation of historic, income-producing buildings,” as written by the National Park Service. The preservation tax credit programs leverage approximately $6 billion annually for preservation efforts across the country, and create thousands of jobs each year.
“One of my real feelings about historic preservation, is that it’s not about saving the past,” said local preservationist and architect Cyril Stewart, a speaker at the panel. “It’s not about copying the past, it’s not about recreating the past – it’s really about creating a future that’s better than the past has ever been… but remembering the past in the process.”
Currently, a total of 35 states have some form of historic preservation tax credit, including all of Tennessee’s neighboring states. As previously mentioned, this means billions of dollars in income tax a year are being returned to communities, encouraging higher quality and better maintained preservation efforts, as well as spurring economic growth, job creation, and identity and cultural preservation.
In Williamson County alone, there are currently 135 properties listed nationally as historic places, with two being listed as national historic landmarks; the Franklin Battlefield that in 1840 saw the Battle of Franklin, and the Hiram Masonic Lodge No. 7, the single oldest public building in Franklin, and the oldest Masonic Hall in the state still in use.
State legislator Sam Whitson, who had previously served as the chairman of both the Franklin Battlefield Preservation Commission and the Carter House Association, was also present during the panel, showing his support of continued preservation efforts in the county and the state at large.
“I appreciate what they do, I know how important [historical preservation] is,” Whitson said, speaking of the Heritage Foundation. “It increases our property value, [and] it just makes this a very special place to live. It would be great if we’re able to help those who help preserve our community and historic structures.”
Major projects undertaken by the Heritage Foundation include the Starbucks on Main Street in Franklin, which used to be a prescription drug store, as well as the Franklin square itself, which has managed to keep most of its aesthetics it had over a century ago.
Renee Kuhlman of Historic Preservation said Williamson County was fortunate for its community and its willingness to help support preservation efforts, but that a preservation tax credit program could see smaller, less wealthy countries and communities spark growth through incentivized preservation efforts.
“Make sure that folks that you know, know that it’s important to you, that this is an incentive that is needed,” Kuhlman advised those in attendance. “I would recommend reaching out to your state legislators, and letting them know that this is something that is important to you – they represent you, and really value your opinion.”
The benefits of such a program, Stewart argued, were more than just the sum of their parts; that beyond the actual preservation of a property, beyond the economic benefits, such a program would improve residents’ quality of life.
“The real passion that I have for it, is improving the quality of life,” Stewart said. “To me it’s not just about the design professionals, the contractors, but it’s about everybody that’s going to work and be in those buildings forever. That’s something that’s not just limited to the major cities, that’s something that’s so important to smaller communities.”
Kuhlman said that state legislator Bo Watson of District 11, and state legislator Kevin Vaughan of District 95 are cosponsors of a bill that would allow for Tennessee to receive preservation tax credits, and that the bill is still currently being written.
For details on property requirements and criteria to be considered for a preservation tax credit, view the Historic Preservation Tax Incentives guidebook by clicking here.