Downtown National Register District Initiative

In an effort to expand the range of historic buildings to be considered eligible for State and Federal Historic Tax Credits (HTC’s), OHP recently initiated a survey and draft nomination of downtown properties to be included in a new National Register District. The pilot survey was launched in 2015, revealing a large portion of downtown which was potentially eligible for designation as a National Register District. 

OHP staff prepared a draft nomination in 2016 in consultation with the Texas Historical Commission which lists 197 contributing buildings, structures, and objects including the River Walk. The San Antonio Downtown and River Walk Historic District was approved by the State Board of Review at its September 17 meeting in Alpine, TX and officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places on February 23, 2018!

View the nominated district boundaries (PDF)

Express-News, 3-19-18

Express-News, 9-29-16

The Rivard Report, 8-3-16

Two public meetings where held in August and November of 2015 to inform property owners of the initiative and the opportunity to use the Historic Tax Credits. A FAQ resulting from those meetings is listed below. OHP will continue to host informational meetings for property owners interested in utilizing the Historic Tax Credits.

Results of Public Q&A Sessions:

What are the benefits of Listing in the National Register of Historic Places?

  • Recognition of a property’s significance in history, architecture, archeology, or engineering
  • Limited protection is provided when a property is endangered by a federally funded or licensed action
  • Provides the owner of income-producing property (commercial or rental residential) the opportunity to receive investment tax credits for “certified rehabilitation”
  • Provides the owner the opportunity to apply for certain grants for restoration/rehabilitation (when funding is available)

             Being listed on the National Register of Historic Places does not

    • Restrict the sale of private property
    • Require continued maintenance of private property
    • Restrict the use of the property (for example, an owner can continue to live in a listed house or convert a listed property to another use)
    • Require the owner to give tours of the property or open it to the public
    • Guarantee funds for restoration
    • Guarantee perpetual maintenance of the property
    • Provide a tax credit for a private residential structure
    • Provide a historic marker for the property
    • Provide the same level of protection as local designation

What types of properties that can participate?

  • The federal program is open to income producing properties, businesses and companies. The 20% federal tax credit program comes back to the property developer as federal tax credit. Owners can apply for credits that include spending as much as the purchase price of the building and renovation (which often requires a combined interior and exterior rehabilitation)
  • The State program is open to income producing, businesses, companies and non-profits. To be eligible to apply for a State tax credit there is a $5,000 project minimum. The 25% Texas state tax credit comes back as a franchise tax credit. The franchise tax credits are issued as certificates an can be sold for cash. The return on franchise tax credits is usually 85-87¢ on the dollar.

Neither the state nor federal tax credit programs allow participation for private dwellings that are not income producing and neither program has a cap on the number applicants or budget size.

What is the purpose of this initiative?
The primary purpose is to provide a valuable economic development tool for historic downtown properties.

How was the project initiated?
Texas Historical Commission and COSA Office of Historic Preservation staff worked together to determine a general area of downtown which may be eligible for National Register Designation. OHP staff then worked with a consultant and downtown stakeholder group to launch a survey project which identified proposed district boundaries and contributing properties.

How were the boundary lines determined and why are the lines irregular?
The boundary of the survey was developed based on existing building stock in an effort to fill in and link existing historic districts in the downtown area. The boundaries are irregular because there are already existing National Register Districts that were not part of this project.

What if a property is within the boundaries, but is not currently designated historic?
The building will be researched and recommended as either contributing or non-contributing to the National Register District. Contributing buildings are considered eligible to receive the Historic Tax Credits.

What is a contributing building?
This is a building that is of historic age and considered to be a part of the significance of the district.

Who makes the determination if a building is contributing or not?
The National Park Service criteria are used to make the decision. Buildings can be significant through multiple avenues—architecture, architect and/or time period. A contributing property is part of the Area of Significance (or “theme”) and the Period of Significance (or date range) of the district. There are four potential criteria or areas in which a property or district could be significant, and more than one may apply. In the case of the downtown pilot program, three of the criteria would likely apply--- historic development, architecture, and association with an important person. Researchers would assess all of the historic buildings in the area in order to establish the “themes” of the district.

Are mixed use properties eligible for the tax credits?
Yes, they are eligible to participate if at least 51% of the property is income producing. The amount of credit is based on the amount of property that is income-producing

How will the designation change the treatment of non-contributing buildings in regards to demolition?
Nothing changes. Only locally-designated buildings are protected from demolition.

How much weight is given to the designing architect in the consideration?
The historical significance and the architect are both considered. If the architect is renowned, then that will be taken into consideration when assessing the building.

What agency has final determination on the tax credits?
The Texas Historical Commission has final determination on state tax credits. If the federal tax credit application is pursued, then the state will generally follow the federal determination. Federal tax credit authorization is informed by the National Register information and designation.

What restrictions come with a National Register district designation listing?
There are no additional property restrictions imposed by National Register designation. Although there are limitations to activities that are eligible to receive the tax credits, participating in the tax credit program is completely voluntary.

Why would someone oppose this designation?
In the few cases that residents oppose designation, it is typically due to a general mistrust of government and/or misunderstanding of the effects of designation.