Rowhouses in Reservoir Hill. Photo by Smallbones, via Wikimedia Commons.

Baltimore’s dedication to historic preservation for development is paying off, quite literally.

The city’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation has calculated that Baltimore recently passed the $1 billion mark for investment in properties qualified to receive preservation tax credits since the local program began in 1997. That’s an average of more than $45 million in annual investment in the city for the last 22 years. The grand total as of today is $1.023 billion.

“This year the CHAP tax credit program achieved a significant milestone, leveraging over $1 billion of direct investment in local historic rehabilitations,” CHAP staff said in a message. “Projects that have utilized the credit have ranged from individual row homes to large scale mill buildings and everything in between.”

The renovation project that put Baltimore over the $1 billion mark was the Fox Building, the conversion into apartments of the former Noxzema factory on Falls Cliff Road in Hampden. The first project to ever be awarded local tax credits, in 1997, was the Scarborough Fair Bed and Breakfast in Federal Hill, a property that went up for auction last fall.

In all, more than 4,000 rehab or restoration projects throughout the city have been completed under the tax credit program, which is administered jointly by CHAP and the city’s Department of Finance. CHAP is planning an invitation-only “Billion Dollar Party” next month to honor past participants and mark the occasion.

“I think this program has been an essential component of some of the biggest turnarounds in Baltimore neighborhoods,” said Eric Holcomb, CHAP’s executive director.

Although factory conversions such as the Fox building are often in the spotlight, a high percentage of the tax credits has supported restorations of the historic rowhouses for which Baltimore is well known, he noted.

“Developers have figured out how to use this program to rehab rowhouses,” Holcomb said. “That’s where you’ll find the bulk of the impact.”

To be eligible for the local tax credit, properties must either be individual landmarks or “contributing structures” within a National Register historic district or a city-designated historic district, and they have to be restored or renovated in accordance with city preservation guidelines. Additionally, the restoration cost has to be more than 25 percent of the property’s full cash value. If owners meet that criteria, they qualify for multi-year tax credits.

Holcomb said the legislation that established the tax credit program is due to expire in 2021. CHAP is planning to hire a consultant to study it and recommend ways “to make it even more effective as a development tool” in the future.

The director said he doesn’t know if any other U.S. cities have seen as much investment in historic preservation activity as Baltimore, and that’s one subject he’ll ask the consultant to explore. “I think Baltimore is pretty unique in what we’ve done,” Holcomb said.

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.