By Debbie Robinson
A desire for a small, public art gallery to display his tile murals grew into the purchase of the former Bagcraft building near 10th and Main streets, according to Paul Whitehill.
Today, he said, the project to renovate the building at 1027 S. Main St. has resulted in $6 million in tax credits for the $10 million project.
Whitehill, one of the three principal owners of the Joplin-based Images in Tile who are purchasing the building, said it took him about a year to learn about all of the available tax credits and loans for the project.
“When we put an option on this property, we didn’t know about these things,” he said. “It took us a year to find out.”
Whitehill was among about 60 people who gathered Thursday at the former Howsmon/Christman Building during the Discover Downtown event for a discussion on how to further renovate and develop downtown Joplin into a place where people want to shop and live.
Becky Brill, the city’s grants coordinator, outlined the city’s Community Development Block Grant program that provides up to $37,500 for revitalization of storefront facades.
To qualify for the grant money, the facade renovations must be to entrances that face the street and located in buildings that are open to the public, Brill said.
Grant money may be used for painting, window improvements, signs, awnings and lighting, she said.
Other speakers explained the benefits of owning property within a district that has been designated as a historic district, such as Joplin’s historic Sunshine Lamp District.
Jeff Neal of the Neal Group, which has restored downtown buildings such as the Columbia Traders building in the 400 block of South Main Street, said federal and state tax-credit programs can significantly reduce the cost of renovation of downtown buildings.
To be eligible for the credits, the building must be historic and listed in a city’s designated historic district, he said. Federal credits are limited to income-producing property, but state credits can apply to owner-occupied homes.
The state tax-credit program also allows property owners within a historic district to go back and claim credits for improvements done since 1999, Neal said.
Another plus for property owners who want to develop in the downtown area is a measure taken by the city that provided a “cover document” that details the background of the entire city through 1960, Neal said. The document provides for the establishment of mini-districts that can expand the original historic-district boundaries.
“It’s a neat thing,” Neal said. “That’s why you can go back and claim tax credits for something you did in the past.”
Karen Massey, of the Missouri Environmental Improvement and Energy Resources Authority, outlined the state’s brownfield revolving-loan program that provides money for work at contaminated sites.
Old buildings with asbestos or lead-based paint or, for example, a former dry cleaning business, can qualify for assistance, Massey said.
The loans have a 3 percent maximum interest rate, she said.
“I want to make it clear to bankers, we are not trying to compete,” Massey said.
Springfield developer Matt Miller received nearly $200,000 in brownfield tax credits last fall for his project to renovate the Howsmon/Christman building at Fifth and Main streets in Joplin into apartments and retail space.
Local banks also are providing incentives for prospective developers in the historic district.
Clifford Wert, a representative of U.S. Bank, said a group of 10 banks in 2003 formed a consortium to provide secondary or “gap” loan financing for individuals who want to do projects in areas with low to moderate incomes, such as the downtown area.
The projects are restricted to income-producing ventures, Wert said.
Loans of $5,000 to $50,000 with terms that reasonably can be extended are available, he said.
The developers, bankers and entrepreneurs who attended the meeting were shown several examples of downtown projects that were completed with use of various state and federal tax credits, as well as loans.
By Debbie Robinson
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