Renovation urged for upper floors downtown

Workshop to explain tax credit in historic district

May 08, 2002|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Where he now stores bags and boxes for his downtown Annapolis clothing store, Larry Vincent hopes there will one day be an attractive apartment. Like many shops in downtown Annapolis, the second floor of Laurance Clothing on Main Street is now virtually empty because renovation costs are so high.

But as demand soars for Annapolis housing, the city is taking a step to attack the long-standing problem of underused upstairs space downtown. Tomorrow night, the city will hold a workshop to explain how Annapolis property owners can take advantage of the state's historic tax credit program - hugely popular in Baltimore but rarely used in the state capital.

"We want to let people know this credit is available so that they can rehab their second and third floors," said Mike Miron, the city's economic development director.

Miron said about 1,200 Annapolis properties, mostly in the historic district, are eligible for the state's Heritage Rehabilitation tax credit. But in the past two years, only 17 properties, just one of which was commercial, applied to the state program, which gives property owners a tax credit of 20 percent of their rehabilitation costs.

Baltimore developers have applied for millions of dollars in tax credits through the program - prompting state legislators to consider cutting the program a few months ago, just as officials in Annapolis realized how it could be used there.

Miron, who joined Baltimore officials in successfully fighting for preservation of the program, said he hopes Annapolis can use it to bring more residents or small businesses to Main Street, Maryland Avenue and inner West Street.

More residents in the commercial areas, Miron said, would help to support the retail establishments there and keep a level of activity on the streets even after most businesses are closed.

Having a balanced mix of residents and businesses is "the kind of utopia that most small cities that have historic districts strive for," Miron said.

Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said those refurbished upstairs spaces also could be an important component in luring more small businesses to Annapolis.

Encouraging business

"If we want to encourage small businesses to come we must be able to utilize the space that is available. There is a big limitation on space," Moyer said. "People want to live here and have their small businesses here."

Moyer and Miron say the key to rehabbing upper stories - which can be seen vacant above many thriving Main Street shops - comes down to money.

Vincent, of Laurance Clothing, estimates that it would cost about $100,000 to turn the second floor at 232 Main St. into an 800-square-foot apartment. Under the tax credit program, Vincent could be eligible for a $20,000 tax refund from the state.

Productive space

"For most of the mom-and-pop stores like me, it comes down to whether we can afford it," he said. "The space could be a lot more productive and income-producing than storing bags and boxes."

At the workshop tomorrow, experts also will provide information on an accompanying federal tax credit program for rehabilitation, the state's Green Building tax credit and building code issues.

The workshop will be from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Loews Annapolis Hotel on West Street. For more information or to attend, call the city's economic development office at 410-263- 7940.

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