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The value of historic preservation is often expressed in terms that are difficult to quantify. We are preserving cultural patrimony, maintaining a sense of place, safeguarding our architectural heritage.

But what if we could hang a number on the value of historic preservation?  Actually, we can.

Look at tax credits issued for rehabbing historic properties. Montgomery County provides a 10-percent tax credit for qualified work on properties listed in the County’s Master Plan for Historic Preservation or located in County-designated historic districts. The State of Maryland and federal government also offer rehabilitation tax credits that some property owners may be able to receive on top of the county’s program.

In 2012, the historic preservation commission reviewed applications for the county’s preservation tax credit program, recommending approval of $74,000 of tax credits for 56 projects.

Long deteriorated, Baltzley Castle, a Montgomery County historic site, has been rehabbed.

Long deteriorated, Baltzley Castle, a Montgomery County historic site, has been rehabbed.

The projects totaled $740,000 in investments in historic properties in Montgomery County. More of these dollars — paid to roofers, carpenters, painters, masons, and other contractors — stay local than dollars invested in other construction sectors.  These dollars are cycled through our economy as these contractors purchase building materials, buy lunch or coffee, and pay their mortgage or rent.  In fact, a Rutgers study found that 75 percent of the economic impact of historic preservation investments stays in the community.

Federal and state studies across the county also point to the local economic benefit generated by historic preservation.  According to a Colorado study, every $1 million invested to rehabilitate historic buildings creates 32 new jobs (another way to think about this is one job is created for every $31,250  invested in a rehab project). In fact, historic preservation projects in Colorado, the study said, led to the creation of nearly 35,000 jobs and $2.5 billion – billion – in economic impacts since 1981.

Closer to home, Governor O’Malley reported in 2010 that Maryland’s tax credit program had generated $1.5 billion in direct rehabilitation investments and $8.50 in economic output for every $1 of tax credits.  O’Malley pointed to Abell Foundation research that found that this investment in historic preservation created 1,850 more jobs than would have been created by an equal investment in new construction. Furthering these findings, economist Donovan Rypkema determined that jobs created by historic preservation outpace jobs created through the federal stimulus program. Rypkema compared one federal historic preservation program to the federal stimulus program and found that the preservation program created one job for every $13,780 invested, while the stimulus program created one job for every $248,000. That’s a big difference.

By whatever metrics you want to use, it is clear that investment in historic resources creates jobs, circulates money in the local economy, and expands the county’s tax revenues.

So while part of the reason we do historic preservation is to retain the character of what makes Montgomery County a distinct and desirable place to live, work, and visit, we cannot overlook the numbers that demonstrate the significant contributions historic preservation makes to Montgomery County’s economy.

Postscript: If you own an individually designated historic site or property within a Montgomery County historic district and have completed any rehabilitation work in calendar year 2012, you can apply for county tax credits.  The application deadline has been extended to April 15, 2013.