Proposal could help cities recover from pandemic impact – InsideSources
Cities across the country are witnessing one of the long-term consequences of the pandemic: the shrinking workforce in city centers. While many companies choose to downsize or not renew office leases, thousands of small businesses that have been supported by the flow of 9 to 5 workforce have had no other choice than to close their doors for good – leaving workers jobless and entrepreneurs out of luck. If not corrected quickly, these closures could jeopardize the cultural vitality of downtowns, and their small businesses, from coast to coast.
Fortunately, Congress is working on a solution that would help stabilize downtowns and inner-city communities to help them bounce back, reorganize and come back even stronger.
Presented by Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) And Gary Peters (D-Mich.), With representatives Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), And John Larson (D-Connecticut), the Revitalizing Downtowns Act would provide a new federal tax credit for converting empty or obsolete office structures into mixed-use residential or commercial spaces. The bill proposes a 20 percent tax credit to help incentivize and offset conversion costs. If developers choose to build housing, some of the new units must be available as affordable housing.
This new legislation is important because, while many of these older downtown buildings may be under-occupied or even vacant, market forces alone typically don’t drive developers to invest in large-scale conversions. Converting outdated office structures into modern living or retail spaces can be difficult and expensive – just imagine the costs of completely renovating an office space into residential units with showers, kitchens and living spaces that don’t. did not exist before.
Now is the time to reshape the downtown space for a more prosperous future. Across the country, employee visits to the office have fallen to about a quarter of pre-pandemic levels. Converting old and surplus office buildings into affordable housing or restaurants represents a unique opportunity to maintain the economic stability of America’s downtown areas, helping to create more prosperous communities and resilient cities. This is a sentiment shared by members of the Revitalize Our Cities Coalition, a group of national and regional economic development organizations in 37 states, dedicated to strengthening urban centers and increasing the resilience of city centers after the pandemic.
While the pandemic has devastated our downtown areas, it has also provided us with an opportunity to reshape them. Organizations, small business owners and city advocates across the country have been brainstorming “new ways” to make sure the downtown area remains as vibrant as ever, even with the influx of vacant offices. The Revitalizing Downtowns Act can serve as a foundation for this re-imagining by providing incentives for developers to develop the downtowns we know and love.
The International Downtown Association recognizes that promoting vibrant centers across the country requires innovative and tireless work. As we continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, urban place management organizations must prioritize economic competitiveness and fiscal resilience. For years, the city center has been synonymous with an office. It’s a place to go during the week, but go every night after a long day. COVID upset the status quo and with it the business of so many restaurants, shops, bars and hotels that depended on office workers.
So it’s clear that business, professional and civic leaders need to work collaboratively to create innovative and achievable solutions for cities across America with the goal of rebuilding better from COVID-19. Passing the Revitalizing Downtowns Act would be an encouraging first step and our organization is proud to support it.