Financial Benefits of Preserving Your Historic Commercial Building | Wisconsin Historical Society

General Information

Financial Benefits of Preserving Your Historic Commercial Building

Financial Benefits of Preserving Your Historic Commercial Building | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeHistoric district

Platteville, Wisconsin. The city of Platteville has four historic districts listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places. It is also a Certified Local Government. Source: Photographer Mark Fay.

If you own a historic commercial building, you can benefit in many ways from preserving the historic character of your building. The historic preservation and revitalization of older commercial areas is an important policy of both the state and federal government. As a result, significant tax incentives are available to owners of historic commercial buildings. In addition, many Wisconsin communities are part of statewide programs that encourage investment and marketing to downtown businesses.

Many programs are available in Wisconsin to assist owners of historic commercial buildings. These programs include:

  • Official listing as a historic building
  • Protection through local overlay zoning
  • Marketing and promotion through local and state agencies

Benefits of a National Historic Designation

Many downtown commercial districts and individual buildings in Wisconsin are listed in the National Register of Historic Places or may qualify for listing. The National Register is the nation’s official list of buildings, districts, and sites that are significant to our history. Downtown commercial historic districts and/or individual buildings are usually listed in the National Register because of their significance in architecture and/or commerce. The National Park Service and the Wisconsin Historical Society are responsible for the National Register program and work with property owners to prepare and approve nominations.

Listing your building on the National Register is an honorary designation and will not restrict you from doing what you wish with your property. However, listing will provide significant state and federal tax incentives for you to restore your building. Income-producing buildings listed on the National Register may qualify for rehabilitation tax credits. These tax credits are incentives for historic preservation and re-use of existing buildings. Wisconsin also offers a state-level supplement tax credit.

If you own or purchase an older building, you should find out if your building is already listed on the National Register as part of a downtown historic district. You can find this information by contacting your local preservation organization or the Wisconsin Historical Society. If your building is part of a historic district, it may already be protected through your local zoning regulations.

Benefits of a Local Historic Designation

Your historic commercial building may be located within a locally designated historic district. This means your municipality has adopted a local historic preservation ordinance that overlays other zoning regulations. Local historic districts protect older commercial buildings by requiring a local commission to review and approve proposals for exterior rehabilitation work, new construction or demolition. Your local commission will have design guidelines in place to help you and other property owners understand proper maintenance and appropriate changes to your historic building. You must consult with your local commission to determine whether your proposed project is in keeping with your district’s historic character. You can learn more by contacting your local planning department.

By following your local design guidelines for maintenance, repair and rehabilitation, you will help protect the unique character of your downtown. This is beneficial not only for the appearance of your downtown but also for your investment. Nationwide studies have consistently demonstrated that property owners in historic districts generally enjoy higher property and resale values than the property owners in adjacent areas with a similar character.

Benefits of the Main Street Program

The Main Street Program is an economic development program initiated over 30 years ago by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The program’s name evokes the traditional business and social center of a community. Its purpose is to restore the economic vitality of historic downtowns. The Main Street Program is carried out at the local level by nonprofit organizations. The program’s premise is that the promotion of events and business among a community’s historic commercial buildings is good for the local economy and the community’s pride in itself. Main Street joins private and public sectors, encouraging a strong partnership between business owners and local government. Between 1989 and 2012, the Wisconsin Main Street program was responsible for generating $1.2 billion in downtown investment.

Four Key Points of the Main Street Program

The Main Street program consists of a four-point program:

  • Design: Rehabilitating your building with an attractive storefront and enticing window displays draws customers to your business.
  • Organization: You and your fellow property owners will work with civic groups, merchants, bankers, citizens, public officials and chambers of commerce to develop fundraising and public relations activities to draw consumers to downtown.
  • Economic restructuring: Explore financing options within your community through the Main Street Program, which works with local financial institutions on low-interest loans or grant programs for downtown improvement projects.
  • Promotion: Main Street programs work with business owners to develop events, festivals and community activities that benefit commerce and community.

Wisconsin Main Street Program

In Wisconsin, the Main Street Program is administered by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). Each year, the WEDC expands its base by selecting new communities to join the program. These communities receive technical support and training toward restoring their Main Streets to centers of community activity and commerce. The WEDC invests approximately $5,000 annually in each Main Street community after a start-up phase. Benefits to a Main Street community also include approximately 80 days of on-site technical support. The State of Wisconsin funds $125,000 toward the staff and consultation provided by WEDC.

There are numerous Main Street programs active in the state of Wisconsin. As the owner of a commercial building, you could become a partner in the Main Street program of your town. The WEDC publishes an annual report and directory of existing Main Street programs. In the report, you will find statistics for each community, including public improvements, new businesses and jobs created, building rehabilitation and total private and public investment dollars.

Benefits of Certified Local Government Designation

More than 50 communities in Wisconsin are part of the Certified Local Government (CLG) program. The CLG program is designed to encourage the rehabilitation of historic commercial districts and neighborhoods. The program is administered by the National Park Service and, in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Historical Society. Certification provides a community access to technical expertise as well as partnerships with other preservation programs, like Main Street. A community that is a CLG also has access to small grants that can be used as seed money to attract additional local funding for preservation projects. Under the National Historic Preservation Act, the Wisconsin Historical Society is required to award at least 10% of its annual historic preservation allotment to CLGs in Wisconsin.

CLG funding can be applied toward a variety of projects to assist downtown building owners such as these:

  • Conduct a historic property survey
  • Develop historic property walking tours
  • Prepare a National Register nomination
  • Train historic preservation commission members
  • Write a historic preservation ordinance

Grants usually require a 50/50 match, meaning the community must match every grant dollar with local funding in money, volunteer hours or services. Nationally, grant amounts can range from $500 to thousands of dollars. Each year the state informs CLG communities of its grant allotment amount and accepts applications for projects. Each State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) determines its own preservation priorities. These criteria that are also submitted to the state’s CLGs. If your building is in a CLG community, it may benefit from proposed projects, directly or indirectly.