Letter to the editor

To the editor,

In the wake of COVID-19, creating economic growth, good paying jobs, and vitality in our community has become more important than ever. Here in International Falls, we know the best of our town is local, from our Main Street businesses to our neighbors. As we begin to pick up the pieces that COVID-19 related devastation has brought to our state, we need to preserve the tools we have to do so.

Since 2010, the bipartisan-supported Minnesota State Historic Tax Credit has served the state in countless ways. The tax credit, offers a 20 percent state tax credit for qualified historic rehabilitations, has put $3.5 billion into Minnesota’s economy, created over 18,600 jobs, and touches 97 percent of industries. In Greater Minnesota specifically, the tax credit has shown large returns, where projects have generated up to $16 for the state for every $1 of tax credit spent.

In International Falls, the Alexander Baker School is in the midst of a redevelopment process that would restore and adaptively reuse this historic building for much needed affordable housing for working families. This would preserve not only a key piece of community history but would also create the first new multi-family housing project for general occupancy the town has seen in nearly 40 years.

In 1994, when Jim Lemieux put a blurb in The Daily Journal seeking likeminded community members to save the EW Backus and Alexander Baker Schools from demolition, he saw the opportunity those buildings had for the future of International Falls. Since then, the community and Citizens for Backus/AB have seen that potential too and have worked to preserve and redevelop these buildings into space for the community, by the community.

Today, the Backus Community Center sees more than 60,000 visitors each year and is a pillar of community life. Meanwhile the Alexander Baker School remains vacant but full of potential. Historic tax credits would allow this vacant building, in the heart of the City, to see a new future- one that serves the families of International Falls.

This year, Historic Tax Credit program will end if the Minnesota Legislature does not vote to extend the tax credit. Without this program we will lose a key tool to rebuild our local economy, revitalize our historic downtown businesses, and create well-paid jobs. As importantly, we will lose visible threads of our community’s history, as projects like the Alexander Baker School would not be possible without the historic tax credit.

There are few other tools that have shown as high a reinvestment in Minnesota’s economy. The Historic Tax Credit offers dividends in local jobs, an enhanced tax base, and preservation of our valued history. Indirect impacts are achieved as well, with an estimated combined $106 million output in Minnesota’s economy in 2018. Simply put, the tax credit is not just about preserving historic buildings but revitalizing communities through creating jobs and setting the foundation for Minnesota to thrive in the future.

Isaac Meyer

Planning and Development Director

KOOTASCA Community Action

International Falls, MN