Baltimore’s historic center of commercial activity at Howard and Lexington streets is now at the center of the city’s economic and green resurgence. The Hecht’s and Stewart’s department store shoppers have long since departed, now replaced by the residents of the Atrium Apartments and the office workers of Catholic Relief Services’ world headquarters.
The transformation of that intersection and its vibrant West Side mixed-use community is due in great part to one of the most successful economic development programs ever designed by Maryland state government, the Maryland Heritage Structure Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program. But the intersection can also be considered “climate change central,” exemplifying the types of changes needed to set Maryland on a sustainable path for future growth.
Most Atrium residents and Catholic Relief Services office workers are probably unaware that their choice of a place to live and work is about as close to “climate neutral” as you can get on a developed piece of real estate in the state of Maryland. The occupants of these buildings drive at least 40 percent less than regional norms, since residents can walk or take transit to everything from baseball games to movies. Both buildings have been renovated to LEED or LEED-equivalent standards, saving about 30 percent of energy use within the building. In addition, the area is also served by Baltimore’s district heating system, so the energy that is required is delivered with low-carbon efficiency.
The Maryland Historic Tax Credit Program is well established as a community revitalization engine, a key element in the renewal of downtowns and older established communities across the state: Berlin, Cumberland, Easton, Frederick, Hagerstown, and more. Less recognized, but defined and quantified here for the first time, is the role of the tax credit in reinforcing smart growth, lowering greenhouse gases, improving water quality, saving greenfields, lowering demand for landfill space, and making better use of existing infrastructure. In short, the historic preservation tax credit program is an environmental-economic development win-win.