A panel of experts told downtown property owners Monday night there are only benefits if downtown Elgin is included in the National Register of Historic Places.
The Downtown Neighborhood Association of Elgin has been working on an application to have downtown Elgin listed as a historic district on the National Register. The application is expected to be submitted later this summer.
About 30 people attended the meeting held at Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin.
"It can be a valuable tool for marketing our downtown area and possibly increasing tourism in the downtown area," said Tom Armstrong, chairman of the association's design committee.
The downtown Elgin district would include about 102 properties; at least 50 percent of property owners eventually will have to approve the plan for it to move forward, Armstrong said.
Historic preservation tax credits can be as much as 45 percent, with 20 percent in federal tax credits and 25 percent in state tax credits, he said.
Carol Dyson, chief architect of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, said the average property owner can use about $9,000 in tax credits per year.
To get the federal tax credit, a building must be income-producing, which includes residential rentals, she said.
Also, there are benefits for residential owner-occupied properties, whose property tax assessments can be frozen at pre-rehab values for eight years.
There are guidelines regarding the minimum amount of money one must spend on a project, Dyson said.
"We love this program. It leads to substantial changes in terms of making downtowns more alive," she said.
Marco Muscarello, who owns properties downtown including the Gasthaus Zur Linde bar, said he doesn't want to have to abide by more rules.
But Dyson insisted there are no drawbacks to being on the national register, and the tax incentives are all voluntary.
Property owners can do whatever they want to their own properties -- including tear them down -- as long as their projects are not state- or federally funded, she said. In that case, proposed projects would go through a review, she said.
Rockford architect Gary Anderson said the tax incentives that come with being listed on the national registry have been "a huge windfall" for downtown Rockford.
He cited several rehab projects that have led to major commercial and residential redevelopment.
Buyers who want to find out whether a property would quality for tax credits before finalizing a sale can do so with written permission of the current property owners, Dyson said.
Tax-increment financing money -- property tax money above the frozen amount of taxes going to local governments -- can be part of any rehab project but would not be eligible for tax credits, she said.
Tony Bonasera of Elgin said he and his wife are considering investing in a downtown Elgin building. But if that doesn't work out, Rockford might be an appealing second option, he said.
"I had heard of what's happening there before, but to hear all this tonight just confirms it," he said.