THE TENNESSEAN |Tennessee is rich in history, but the physical evidence of our heritage is increasingly threatened by our state’s dramatic growth. The structures that have served for generations as the center of spiritual, social, cultural and economic vitality are being torn down or left in disrepair because of the misguided notion that it’s always cheaper to build something new rather than restore and preserve the old.
For example, in rural areas across the state the inability to save important historic structures or landscapes that once played a vital role in the success and identity of those communities is widespread. Buildings around our many courthouse squares, within “Main Street” districts or places that were once farming homesteads are disappearing due to neglect, the lack of adequate financial resources or, like our cities, threatened by uncontrolled development.
Just in my hometown of Nashville, the nationally celebrated Music Row, which tells the story of country music and planted the seeds that built Music City USA, is being demolished at an alarming rate. Between 2013 and 2019, at least 55 music-related buildings were torn down, replaced by apartment and condominium buildings. The places that defined the heart and soul of Nashville, and of Tennessee, are quickly disappearing.
There is a way to save and revitalize the storied buildings of our downtowns and communities while repurposing them to spur economic growth at the local level. The answer is enacting a state historic preservation tax credit. The credit works by incentivizing substantial rehabilitation of historic buildings for income-producing or business use. It requires preservation of the historic character of the property and makes it feasible to preserve older structures that would otherwise be too cost-prohibitive to renovate or restore. Simultaneously, it can save our state’s tangible past in a way that conserves resources, reduces waste and creates jobs.