Supporters Hope New Tax Credit Spurs Waterfront Development

Sep 19, 2016

Pittsburgh has successfully reinvented its once heavily industrial riversides. Supporters hope a new Waterfront Development Tax Credit will encourage similar investment in communities that haven't had as much success.
Credit Jim Orsini / Flickr

Smokestacks and glowing furnaces, emblems of heavy industry, once dotted Pittsburgh’s river banks. In recent years, though, projects backed by public-private investment have turned to making the Steel City’s riversides havens for recreation and leisure.

Now, some redevelopment boosters hope a new tax credit will encourage financiers to invest more in waterfronts throughout Pennsylvania.  

Passed by the legislature in July as part of a bipartisan spending agreement, the Waterfront Development Tax Credit will allow certain nonprofit development organizations to apply with the state to become a “waterfront development organization.” If approved, a nonprofit would propose publicly accessible waterfront projects, then solicit private funding to pay for them. Contributions made to such projects costing up to $1.5 million will be eligible for a 75 percent state income tax credit.

Jay Sukernek, vice president of Riverlife, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that specializes in riverside reclamation, said the city’s strong ties to the philanthropic community and other private funding streams have allowed the city to experience the perks of waterfront development, like increased property values and growing tax revenues. But, he added, nearby waterfront communities, like California and Brownsville, have been less quick to see that kind of investment.

“We know those benefits have existed in Pittsburgh and what we think this will do is exact these same benefits in places throughout the Commonwealth,” Sukernek said.

The tax credit takes effect July 1, 2017, which is the beginning of the new fiscal year.

Eligible projects will have to be accessible to the public, meaning that investment in a gated riverside condominium complex would not qualify for the tax credit. The construction of a pedestrian park or other type of public amenity, however, would count.

“That could be anything from an ecologically landscaped street that happens to capture storm water and provide ecological benefit there to building a trail in an area where one doesn’t exist,” Sukernek said.