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Atkins' tax credit bill could have big impact on SD

A bill aimed at helping the economic development of properties on or eligible for the state or national Register of Historic Places passed on a 75-0 vote in the Assembly in May, and could be headed to the State Senate with little to no organized opposition.

Assembly Bill 1999, by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), offers a 25 percent tax credit for most renovations of registered historic buildings.

It also offers a 30 percent tax credit for buildings meeting certain criteria such as local, state or federal surplus properties, affordable housing, structures in designated census tracts, BRAC zones and Transit-Oriented Development areas.

California is one of the few states without such a tax credit.

"You have Atkins, the Assembly, us and the Building Industry Association all on the same page … I don't know anybody who is against this [bill]," said Bruce Coons, executive director of Save Our Heritage Organisation, who added that the tax credit can be coupled with the 20 percent federal tax credit.

At present 36 states benefit from state historic rehabilitation tax credits.

If passed, the law would become effective in January 2015.

Coons said if the bill passes the state Senate and is signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, the implications could be huge for San Diego.

"This would represent a tremendous economic stimulus," Coons said. "These are really big incentives."

Coons said a range of properties could benefit from the windfall.

One of the properties in the core of San Diego's downtown is the California Theatre at Fourth and C streets, which Coons said is in better shape than the Balboa Theater was before that property was restored during the last decade.

The California Theatre, which has its roots in vaudeville, was built in 1927 in a Spanish Colonial Revival style by John Paxton Perrine that hearkens back to the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.

It housed a movie palace with some 2,200 seats, according to the San Diego History Center. The theater was closed in 1990.

For a time it appeared at least a portion of the California Theatre might be demolished to make way for a hotel, but that plan wasn't able to be realized. The theater is owned by Los Angeles-based Sloan Capital Partners, which took the property back in a foreclosure action in 2005. Sloan couldn't be reached for comment.

Coons, who also successfully fought to preserve the western entrance to Balboa Park, said many if not most of the buildings in the park would stand to benefit from the new tax credit.

Coons said East Village is another part of downtown that would benefit if the tax credit were in place.

Jerome Navarra of Jerome's Furniture teamed up with the Lennar Urban Development Group in 2005 with plans to redevelop three full blocks and parts of four others on property bounded by G, 14th, 17th streets and Broadway in the East Village.

If realized, the mixed-use development would be a major component of the IDEA (Innovation + Design + Education + Art) District.

Coons said in particular, he would like to see a redevelopment of the old boxing ring property across from the police headquarters on 14th and Broadway.

The ring was used by such luminaries as Ken Norton -- who may be best known for breaking Muhammad Ali's jaw -- and Archie Moore.

The boxing ring property is part of a development within the IDEA District known as The Makers Quarter.

It will have microbrewery operations along with residential, low-rise office and retail space with a central plaza, accessibility for walkers and bicyclists.

Along with IDEA District heads Pete Garcia and David Malmuth, the Makers Quarter's team includes Lankford & Associates, Hensel Phelps and Portman Holdings.

Given the scope of the IDEA District's projects, Coons said the impact of the tax credit could be enormous in this part of the East Village.

If all these projects came to fruition, they could result in 2.94 million square feet of mixed-use development.

While Atkins' bill has reached the state Senate, it still must go through multiple committees, including appropriations.

It could also be slowed down if there are any significant amendments or if Gov. Brown has any objections.

Atkins' spokesman Will Shuck said the bill could reach the governor's desk before the Legislature recesses in August.

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