By Mary Catherine Gaston
The State of Georgia's Historic Tax Credit Program provides a state income tax credit to individuals who renovate qualified historic properties. During the 2019 legislative session the Assembly updated the program to extend the window during which the credits may be used and to remove the program's end-date of 2024. Created in 2002, the historic tax credit program has encouraged historic rehabilitation projects throughout the state, and approximately 300 of those have utilized the credit.
In this three-part series, the Rural Center will highlight three projects in rural areas that utilized the tax credit and have helped spur economic development and local pride in their communities.
When construction began on the First National Bank of Dublin in 1912, cotton was still king of the South, and Dublin, located in the heart of the state at the convergence of five railroads, was a bustling center of trade. By the time the grand structure was completed in 1916, the boll weevil had devastated Southern agriculture and the state’s economy. First National Bank folded in 1918, and the tallest structure between Macon and Savannah was left vacant.
The building that had become known as the Skyscraper housed various businesses throughout the decades that followed. The last business to occupy 200 S. Jefferson St. was a ground-level pawn shop. After it closed in the late 80s, the building sat empty for three decades. The towering façade that had once been the pride of downtown Dublin was becoming known as the biggest eyesore in middle Georgia.
When an initial investor’s effort to rehabilitate the structure in the early 2000s was unsuccessful, the Dublin Downtown Development Authority stepped in. Underwriting predevelopment expenditures, the DDA made the project eligible for historic preservation tax credits. With a developer on board, the group secured the services of a tax credit consultant and an architect who remained on the team throughout the project.
Networking by local leaders led to a relationship with a primary tenant, Georgia Military College, that was expanding at the time and deemed the location ideal. The college has experienced explosive growth since opening its Dublin campus in 2015.
Enrollment at GMC is not the only explosion the Skyscraper’s rebirth has sparked. In addition to creating approximately 25 new jobs and local tax revenue in excess of $115,000, the success of Dublin’s first historic rehab project set off a reaction that has spread throughout the Downtown Historic District. Nine additional development projects have begun, three of which are utilizing historic tax credits. Since 2015, three new restaurants and six retail shops have opened in the 12-block district.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that the Skyscraper changed the energy in downtown Dublin,” says DDA Executive Director Tara Bradshaw. “The project has been a catalyst for everything else that has come after it.”
Bradshaw recognizes the State Historic Tax Credit Program for helping her organization secure necessary funding for the project.
“The tax credit program injects equity in the project from the get-go, and that is what makes it feasible for banks to get on board,” Bradshaw says. “What an organization like ours wants is private developers and private banking institutions funding projects like these. The more we can offer a prospective developer or a bank to secure the building, the better chance the project has of succeeding from the outset.”