The Jewelry District has benefited from a Historic Restoration Tax Credit program in the past. The most visible beneficiary, standing vacant and unfinished on the river's edge of the Jewelry District is Dynamo House. A victim of the 2008 financial crisis and the cessation of Rhode Island's Historic tax program, it vividly demonstrates the power of tax credits to put people to work and return historic structures to useful new lives.
The value of such a program is clear, and that's why the Jewelry District Association urges the legislature to enact a well-thought out long-term program in the current session. The overwhelmingly positive case for the program is made in the following statement prepared by Preserve Rhode Island:
Why Rhode Island needs a new Historic Tax Credit Program now.
Governor Chafee has put things in motion to give the Rhode Island economy a desperately needed boost by including a historic tax credit proposal in his 2013 budget. It’s a powerful step forward. We hope the General Assembly will follow his lead and enact carefully considered legislation to:
• Implement a proven way to create jobs.
The recovery is coming so slowly it’s hard to see. Rhode Island had the largest annual percentage loss in construction jobs nationally according to a December jobs report. (source: Associated General Contractors of America) A new historic tax credit program can provide the incentive that developers large and small need to get work under way and spur employment in the construction sector.
• Rebuild our cities’ real‐estate tax base.
Abandoned buildings generate no taxes and put major extra burdens on public safety resources. What happens when a disused factory turns into offices, shops and other uses? The Slater Cotton Mill property in Pawtucket increased in value by 578% after being rehabbed with the aid of the state historic tax credit. The Allen Streets Lofts property in Woonsocket increased 1,876%. Rising Sun Mills in Providence, 660%.
• Make Rhode Island a desirable place to invest in again.
Developers who used to find financially attractive projects in Rhode Island now go where the climate is more favorable: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont. Rhode Island still offers a prime stock of commercial buildings for restoration, but our neighboring states all offer historic tax credits for similar investments.
• Earn significant returns on our investment.
It’s not just the developers who benefit from tax credits. The economy of Rhode Island benefits enormously. Towns and cities gain tax ratables. Rhode Island’s former tax credit program is estimated to have pumped $1.3 billion of private investment into our economy and created some 22,000 construction jobs and 6,000 permanent jobs which, in turn, generated more than $800 million in wages (source: IMPLAN).
• Capitalize on the assets that give Rhode Island a competitive advantage.
Re-purposing outdated historic structures and restoring downtrodden Main Streets have spurred economic revitalization in cities and towns across America. Here in Rhode Island, the businesses and apartments opened in Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket, Rumford Center in East Providence, Aquidneck Mill in Newport, Greenwich Mills in Warwick, Elizabeth Webbing Mill in Central Falls, and St. Ann’s Community Center in Woonsocket, and dozens of other projects, large and small, are proof of the power of creative reuse of Rhode Island’s unparalleled historic structures.
• Energize our vital tourism business.
We’re already a popular destination for visitors from around New England and the world. They don’t come for sagging downtowns and closed factories. They come for our unique combination of attractions. Our increasingly walkable downtowns. Vibrant shops in reclaimed buildings. Theaters restored to glory. Hotels and inns converted from long abandoned factories. Studies show that tourists inclined toward historic destinations stay longer, visit twice as many places and spend, on average, more than twice as much money as other visitors.
We need a new kind of Historic Tax Credit program. And we need it now.
The new Historic Tax Credit program should deliver all the short- and long-term economic, employment and quality-of-life improving benefits outlined above. And it must provide strict accountability, have reasonable caps to reach many projects, not just a few large ones, distribute credits only upon project completion and be open to qualified affordable housing and commercial projects large and small throughout Rhode Island.
Back in 2010, when the idea was first floated to turn the historic Jewelry District into "The Knowledge District" it was greeted with reactions running from scorn to derision. But the notion lingers on in certain circles.
At the time, the Helen Glover Show sent its Rhode Test team out to find out what Rhode Islanders knew about the Jewelry District and what they thought of the name change. Watch the segment here.
Also, back in 2010, an outraged citizen wrote the Providence Journal to decry the name "Knowledge District."
His letter read roughly, as follows.
Silly name for district: Knowledge District is ignorant concept
Regarding “District identity crisis: Jewelry or Knowledge?” Providence Journal, June 8, 2010:
The drive to bury the historically accurate, oddly charming name “Jewelry District” under the clumsy “Knowledge District” is a short-sighted promotional scheme.
“Knowledge” is a snooty word; not in any way is it cool. Go ahead, try this on some high-techie you want to impress in a hip bar: “Hi there! I work in the Knowledge District. Where do you work?”
When we carve out a Knowledge District, what’s the rest of town? The stupid part?
Seems to me a wealth of knowledge is in vigorous action on College Hill, at RIC and PC, at Rhode Island, Women and Infants, Hasbro and Roger Williams hospitals. There are even occasional moments of deep thinking up at the State House.
The Creative Capital’s “Knowledge District” extends far beyond the boundaries of the Jewelry District. Call this larger zone the Tech Sector. Or, á la Manhattan’s SOHO (south of Houston), call it SOBID (South Of Boston’s Innovation District).
And we can leave the traditional boundaries and name of the Jewelry District alone.