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RI panel hears support for tax credits program

David Klepper, Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Rhode Island lawmakers heard support Tuesday for a plan to revive the state's historic redevelopment tax credits, an idea that's taken on greater significance now that it's been suggested as a way to pay for the renovation of the state's tallest building.

The proposal would give credits to developers looking to rehabilitate qualified historic properties.

Lawmakers shelved the program years ago after costs for the credits ballooned. But Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed and others say the credits should be brought back as a way to jumpstart the state's construction business and ensure new uses for the state's many historic buildings.

The Senate Finance Committee heard from several leaders in the construction industry who said tax credits for historic redevelopment could help spur jobs in a sector that's suffered from double-digit unemployment for years.

Monica Staaf of the Rhode Island Association of Realtors said historic redevelopment also reduces blighted urban areas.

The proposal before lawmakers would free up tax credits that have already been authorized but were never claimed. Peter Marino, director of Chafee's Office of Management and Budget, said that allows the program to encourage the redevelopment of mills, factories and other buildings without incurring new debt.

"Placing these facilities back on the tax rolls, putting them back to work, was very important to the governor," he told the senators reviewing the bill.

Historic redevelopment tax credits have been floated as a way to pay for renovations at the downtown Providence building known as the Superman building. Owners of the 1928 office tower have said they might request credits to assist in renovating the property as an apartment building. The proposal wasn't mentioned at Tuesday's hearing.

Several lawmakers including House Rep. Helio Melo, D-East Providence and the chairman of the House Finance Committee, have said they need to hear more details before deciding whether they could support awarding the project tax credits.

Legislation on historic redevelopment tax credits is pending in both the House and Senate and is part of Chafee's $8.2 billion budget proposal. A vote on the proposal has not been scheduled.