An Interview with Illinois Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth
(This article originally appeared in the August 2018 edition of LI’s print newsletter, The Arch.)
Illinois Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, led the legislative crusade this spring to improve Illinois’ preservation tax credit incentives. With co-sponsor Illinois Sen. Steve Stadelman, D-Rockford, Gordon-Booth overcame nearly impossible deadlines aligning both sides of the aisle to pass improvements to the existing River Edge Redevelopment Zone (RERZ) Historic Tax Credit and establish the new Illinois Preservation Tax Credit. We asked Rep. Gordon-Booth to reflect on her success.
Landmarks Illinois: Why was it important to you to sponsor this legislation?
REP. JEHAN GORDON-BOOTH: In Peoria, the Historic Tax Credit has been one of the most useful incentives included in the RERZ. Peoria has a large number of historic buildings that help tell the history of our community and there is no reason to tear these buildings down. However, they do need to be brought up to new building codes and refurbished to fit the needs of businesses today. These projects create long-term jobs and have helped revitalize and diversify our economy. I wanted to bring the same resources and economic development to areas throughout the state.
LI: What has been achieved through the RERZ Historic Tax Credit in your district and the four other eligible cities (Aurora, East St. Louis, Elgin and Rockford)?
JGB: In Peoria, we have seen the redevelopment of several large warehouses along the Illinois River. Instead of being vacant buildings, these buildings now have businesses and condominiums. The tax credit was also used to update the Pere Marquette Hotel. Several other buildings and businesses also invested in our community when these businesses took advantage of the RERZ Historic Tax Credit. It has become central to economic development plans.
LI: What benefit do you believe this tax incentive will bring to communities throughout Illinois?
JGB: There are many communities from old river towns in southern Illinois to neighborhoods in Chicago that would be able to take advantage of this new tax credit. One of the biggest impediments to business investments is capital. This tax incentive helps businesses stretch this further. In communities where there are abandoned, historic buildings, which also tend to be areas with a large minority population, this can be even more of a challenge. The tax credit has been proven to be a useful tool to help overcome this challenge.
LI: In your opinion, why is it important to preserve and reuse our state’s historic places? Do you look at historic buildings in a different way than before?
JGB: Historic buildings tell a story about the community. When they are put to a new use, not only do the buildings tell you about the community from the past, but it also tells you about its future. The pride that communities have is often reflected in those buildings, and when they are put to a good use for the future, it gives people hope for what is yet to come.