The Times-Picayune, July 7, 2011
Standing in the art deco entryway of the iconic Saenger Theatre, Gov. Bobby Jindal on Thursday signed a pair of bills that extend tax credits for the restoration of certain historic structures, including the Canal Street performance venue.
“These historic tax credits will help us to revitalize and save this heritage of historic buildings for our children and the future,” said Jindal, who was flanked by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, state lawmakers and members of the New Orleans City Council.
Completing a massive reconstruction of the Saenger, which opened in 1927 as a vaudeville playhouse before morphing into New Orleans’ preeminent movie palace, hinged largely on the authorization of Senate Bill 63 by Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans.
“Had that piece of legislation not passed, this project probably would have shut down,” Landrieu said.
The measure extends through 2016 a program that provides income and franchise tax credits worth 25 percent of the cost of restoration projects in downtown development and “cultural products districts.”
Developers in March halted work on the $45.8 million Saenger project after investors expressed concern that the tax credit program, which had been slated to expire Dec. 31, would not be renewed. Builders are counting on about $8 million in historic credits to restore the theater, which has been shuttered since it flooded after Hurricane Katrina. City Hall has earmarked another $13 million in block grants for the job, with investors chipping in the balance.
In light of the uncertainty, private lenders requested that all transactions related to the project be halted until the tax credit issue was resolved.
Confident that Jindal and state lawmakers would support the extension, the city agency overseeing the renovation agreed in mid-March to advance the Saenger team $1.1 million to ensure the swift resumption of work. Landrieu publicly backed the move by the board of the Canal Street Development Corp.
Developers anticipate closing on the entire financing package by October, with the theater expected to open in late 2012, mayoral spokesman Ryan Berni said. Officials expect the advance payment from the development corporation to be repaid, he said.
Fifty-five projects worth an estimated $291 million — and carrying $73 million in associated tax credits — are pending under the tax credit program, state documents show. Since it began in 2002, 124 projects have been awarded more than $135 million in tax credits.
Those projects have generated more than $650 million in investment statewide and created 11,000 construction jobs and 5,700 permanent jobs, Jindal said.
“Analysts tell us that for every $1 we invest in this program, we generate $3.22 in economic activity and revenue,” he said.
Jindal on Thursday also signed House Bill 348 by Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, which extends to 2016 a similar tax credit program for owner-occupied residential properties. The measure lowers from $20,000 to $10,000 the minimum qualifying rehabilitation cost and increases the credit rate to 25 percent for most projects and 50 percent to the restoration of blighted properties that date back at least a half-century.
Jindal cast the bill as a blight-fighting tool, and Brad Vogel of the local office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation called the residential tax credit “crucial” to continuing rebuilding efforts.
“As different neighborhoods pick up steam, it will help to make renovation a more viable option,” he said.