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Revitalizing Downtowns Act and Other Efforts to Resuscitate Downtown Areas in the Post-COVID Era

Posted on January 10, 2022 by Kelly Rutledge

The Revitalizing Downtowns Act was introduced in Congress this summer with the goal of converting unused or outdated office buildings into residential or mixed-use spaces. The goal of this legislation is to amend the tax code to create an incentive for developers and building owners in city centers to transition outdated buildings from empty office or retail space to housing or mixed-use properties.

The Revitalizing Downtowns Act targets office structures which are at least twenty-five years old. At least twenty percent of the residences within the new building must be dedicated to affordable housing. If this is done, twenty percent of the cost of the conversion will be covered by a tax credit. This act would hopefully help to mitigate the housing crisis as much needed affordable housing enters the market. Business districts would also stand to benefit as old and unused office spaces become renewed, attracting more young professionals to urban centers.

The Revitalizing Downtowns Act has a long way to go before it becomes a part of the tax code. Introduced in the House on July 28, 2021, the bill has been reviewed and sent to the Finance Committee. If it makes it past the House, it will still need to go before the Senate and the President before it is signed into law.

While the nation waits for the federal government to work through the legislation, some cities are taking their own approach to resuscitating their downtown areas. For example, Monroe, Louisiana has announced plans to use sales tax dollars to purchase four downtown properties and convert them to mixed-use properties which will be used for at least two of the following: housing, retail, offices, entertainment, institutions, and restaurants.[1]

Albuquerque, New Mexico has funded grants for small businesses who occupy street level properties and are bringing hundreds of new housing units to the area.[2] The city has also included a new police substation in their downtown area and additional lighting in an effort to increase public safety in the downtown area.[3]

Seattle has also introduced plans to revitalize the downtown area, with former Mayor Durkan investing nine million dollars in recovery efforts in addition to the Downtown Seattle Association’s nearly 7.5-million-dollar investment. While the city is hoping to use the investments to assist with job placement, transit use, and homelessness, the money will also be used to reopen the city after the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing the number of events, aiding the transition back to in person work, and providing for cleanup of the downtown areas.[4]

With more than 450 businesses in downtown Seattle closing due to the COVID 19 pandemic, these investments present a unique opportunity to create both affordable housing within the city center and new opportunities for businesses in the area to attract more shoppers and employees.

[1] Jenn Hensley, Revitalizing Downtown: The City of Monroe Has Big Plans for Several Spaces in Downtown, myarklamiss (Oct 25, 2021). https://www.myarklamiss.com/news/local-news/revitalizing-downtown-the-city-of-monroe-has-big-plans-for-several-spaces-in-downtown/#:~:text=MONROE%2C%20La.%20%28KTVE%2FKARD%29%20%E2%80%94%20The%20City%20of%20Monroe,Candy%20Company%2C%20and%20turn%20them%20into%20mixed-use%20facilities

[2] One Albuquerque, City Launches Downtown Revitalization Projects (Sept 24, 2021). https://www.cabq.gov/mra/news/city-launches-downtown-revitalization-projects

[3] Justin Schatz, Plans to Revitalize Downtown Include New Police Substation, The Paper (July 27, 2021). https://abq.news/2021/07/plans-to-revitalize-downtown-include-new-police-substation/

[4] The Downtown Seattle Association, Seattle Unveils Plan to Revitalize Downtown Businesses, Move Homeless into Shelter Spaces (June 28, 2021). https://downtownseattle.org/2021/06/seattle-unveils-plan-to-revitalize-downtown-businesses-move-homeless-into-shelter-spaces