Developers Eager To Begin Historic Preservation Work

Mississippi State Capitol Building

JACKSON, MS (AP) — Mississippi's historic preservation tax credits make it possible for Neil and Mike Juneau to look at the campus of Gulfport's long-closed Department of Veterans Affairs hospital and see a Holiday Inn Resort surrounded by a community of apartments, shops, restaurants and offices.

         In Greenville, the tax credits allow Bill Boykin to see a new commercial life for the circa 1940s Sears building, a three-story structure that anchors downtown and stayed vacant for 20 years until Boykin bought it from the city three years ago.

         Likewise, Water Valley's Main Street maestro Mickey Howley thinks of the credits as a way to continue a series of a half dozen downtown restorations.

         Together, the state historic preservation tax credits and federal credits can cover up to 45 percent of a preservation project's cost, primarily for construction, with 25 percent coming from the state credits and the remaining from the federal credits.

         "The state HPC and the fed HPC combined are one of the few incentives small downtown economic developers like myself and the other 50 towns on Mississippi Main Street have to work with," said Howley, who as director of the Water Valley Main Street Association has helped his association bag about every achievement award the state Main Street Association offers.

         Neither the state nor federal credits are sufficient to accomplish a restoration on their own, according to Howley.

         The Main Street chief is looking to continue what so far have been six restorations completed with about $135,000 in preservation credits and $2.6 million in private investment.

         The projects, Howley said, have created space in 120-year-old buildings for four Main Street businesses that employ 28 people. "That's in retail, medical and light manufacturing," he said in an email.

         These are buildings that were vacant for years and "literally falling in on themselves," Howley noted.

         Water Valley's Main Street has had 29 buildings restored but the owners used the preservation tax credits on only the six. "We use the credit sparingly and in critical situations where the HPC are literally the difference in getting a project off the ground," he added.

         Restoration of another three buildings has been on hold awaiting the Legislature's replenishing of a $60 million tax credit fund that dried up early this year, Howley said.

         "I think you see by Water Valley's example that a critical credit in the right places can make a huge difference."

         Meanwhile, Bill Boykin is eager to transform Geenville's nearly eight-decade-old Sears building into luxury loft apartments and a boutique hotel. He's also bought three adjoining buildings.

         "We are currently talking to four entities about locating in them," he said in an email.

         "One that I can mention is a brewery, Big River Brewing Co.; the second is an up-and-coming-restaurant franchise that will make a huge impact in Greenville," he said, and added he has two other prospects he can't discuss.

         "This will be a major economic impact for downtown Greenville," he said of the more than $5 million restoration project he plans. "We are creating jobs that currently do not exist."

         Problem is, said Boykin, all the work is on hold until Mississippi decides whether to restock its supply of historic preservation tax credits. "For the project to work I need help with the historic tax credits from the State of Mississippi," Boykin said. "Banks just do not like downtown projects without some tax-credit backing."

         The credits are the difference makers, and "we need them in the Mississippi Delta," he added.

         The waiting also continues in Gulfport, where Neil and Mike Juneau have ambitious plans for converting the buildings and grounds that made up the former Veterans Hospital into the Centennial Plaza mixed-use waterfront project anchored by a Holiday Inn Resort.

         Mississippi's historic preservation tax credits are key to creating the 152-room resort on Beach Boulevard, the project's initial phase. "We had everything in place and were in the process of closing the construction loan when the state ran out of funding," Neil Juneau said in a phone interview.

         "That made a $2.7 million gap in our equity."

         The hotel is the first leg in restoring all 10 of the circa 1920s buildings within the 48-acre compound the City of Gulfport ceded to the Juneaus' Centennial Private LLC under a 99-year lease.

         Neil Juneau expects each of the buildings to qualify for state and federal historic preservation tax credits. The buildings include several examples of Spanish Colonial Revival style architecture.

         "By the time we do everything on the 48-acre site we'll spend $170 million." Juneau said, adding the project includes a pier, and offices, shops and apartments centered on a town square that served as a parade ground during the property's early use as a military installation.

         Once back on track, completion of the entire Centennial Plaza project will take about seven years, though improvement in the coast's economy could lead to completion in five years, according to Juneau.

         The property won placement on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. The property sustained massive damage in 2005's hurricane Katrina, including the destruction of a number of buildings.

         – by AP/ Reporter Ted Carter with The Mississippi Business Journal

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