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Proposed tax credit for development nonprofits would boost Pa. waterfronts

| Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, 10:29 p.m.

Pittsburgh's waterfronts have come a long way since 1999, when the Riverlife Task Force laid plans to revitalize the shorelines.

About $130 million worth of investment in the city's riverfronts has resulted in $4 billion worth of adjacent development, including sports complexes and corporate office buildings, hotels and residents, said Jay Sukernek, Riverlife's chief financial officer.

“What this means is that, for every dollar invested directly in riverfront projects, there has been approximately $30 of investment adjacent to the rivers,” Sukernek said.

Legislation by Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Shaler, looks to boost this kind of development statewide, establishing a $10 million tax credit for developers who donate to waterfront development nonprofits such as Riverlife.

At a hearing in Pittsburgh on Friday, Vulakovich said that although the credit means less revenue to the state, the investments would add value to communities.

“People who donate, who give a lot of money and spur investments, they're not interested in losing money,” he said. “If they donate to things like this, that means there's value in the project.”

The Senate Finance Committee held a two-hour information hearing on the bill at Point Park University, at which Riverlife, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and the Erie Port Authority spoke in support of the idea.

Waterfronts are lucrative markets, as the past decade or so of Pittsburgh's development shows. But public spaces along these developments — parks, benches, streets, trails, restrooms — are not necessarily included. Developers often see them as “amenities” and not necessary pieces of the project, said Riverlife president Lisa Schroeder.

Under Senate Bill 968, businesses that donate money to waterfront development nonprofits would get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit. Projects would have to “create or improve public access and connections to the waterfront” through public utilities, infrastructure, recreational amenities or environmental investments, such as stormwater management or erosion control.

Ninety-five percent of the contribution must go toward the authorized project; the nonprofit could retain 5 percent for administrative purposes.

If passed as written, the legislation would be a $10 million revenue blow to a stretched state budget. Vulakovich said that figure is a starting point that lawmakers could discuss.

State Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, said that though the state's eight tax credit programs have produced mixed results, the tax credit would be valuable by stimulating job growth.

“Any tool that we can add to our economic development arsenal is important,” he said.

Melissa Daniels is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8511 or mdaniels@tribweb.com.

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