A Taxing Development
But before any of those motives come into play, all developers will say that their industry is first and foremost a numbers game. That is, for any property to be developed or redeveloped, many figures must be plugged into many equations, and the end result must at least promise to show a net gain.
Since the 1990s, those equations have included a pair of Michigan tax credits: 5 percent of the cost of historic renovations, and 12.5 percent for redeveloping "brownfields." Those credits can make or break the feasibility of a project.
"It's a philosophy that the state has embraced," says Brett Lenart of the Washtenaw County Department of Economic Development & Energy, who administers the area's Brownfield Redevelopment Program, "that redeveloping these [blighted] sites is a challenge and the public should support them."
Today it would be more accurate to say that this "was" a philosophy that the state of Michigan "did" embrace. In May, the GOP-controlled state legislature voted to cut business taxes by $1.8 billion. They made up most of the lost revenue by taxing senior citizens' pensions--but $400 million came from eliminating existing business incentive programs, including the brownfield and historic preservation credits.