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Old structures may get new look

More funding set to save buildings

Around the state, dozens of century-old breweries, mill factories, cinemas, and other historic structures have sat for years, forsaken and forlorn, in a losing fight against weather and time.

Now, the state Legislature has approved $50 million a year in tax credits for a state preservation program. The credits amount to a big increase from the $15 million a year in earlier tax aid earmarked for developers to restore historic structures that might help to spur the economy.

The measure was among the bills that Governor Mitt Romney considered wasteful spending when he vetoed $225 million in two legislative spending bills.

The Legislature overrode that veto; supporters of the program said that the tax credits would create jobs and would revive distressed areas by turning abandoned buildings into affordable housing, offices, job training sites, and centers for local services.

``So many of these historic buildings have been underutilized or have been vacant," said James W. Igoe , president of Preservation Massachusetts, a statewide nonprofit advocacy group.

Preservation Massachusetts proposed the program in 2003.

The program provides a tax credit of up to 20 percent of historic renovation costs. The state does not pay developers until the completed project generates economic activity.

The program started with a tax credit cap totaling $10 million a year. Applications poured in, developers quickly outstripped the available funds, and lawmakers raised the cap to $15 million in 2004. The new law gives the program $50 million a year in tax credits through 2011.

There are 28 eligible projects in the state, with about $80 million in state tax credit requests, Igoe said.

Romney's office estimated last month that the measure would cost the state $44 million initially and $35 million annually after that.

``The spending in these bills would put Massachusetts on the same road to ruin we've been down before," Romney said in the release of the spending bills.

But Secretary of State William F. Galvin , chair of the Massachusetts Historical Commission, which administers the program, said it stimulates economic development.

``I don't think he understood the positive impact it would have on our economy," Galvin said.

The Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program has set its sights on a building across the street from the Boston Medical Center that used to house pathology laboratories and the Boston city morgue.

Bob Taube , the program's executive director, said the building would serve homeless people with 24-hour medical care, mental health, and dental services. His application for $4 million is pending, he said, but he hopes to begin construction in September.

In Jamaica Plain, the former Haffenreffer & Co.'s Boylston Brewery complex operated from the 1870s until the middle 1960s, before it fell into disrepair.

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation bought the sprawling complex in the 1980s, hoping to bring jobs back to the area.

About 15 years later, they restored several structures that had been boarded up with crumbling bricks and broken windows.

Two years ago, the state tax credit program allowed them to begin renovating the main building.

``We're basically bringing new life to a space that's been dead for 40 years," said Richard Thal , the corporation's executive director.

Russell Nichols can be reached at

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