Mayor John Robert Smith learned that there was a possibility that the National Trust for Historic Preservation might have tax credits which could be used to help fund historic areas of cities. A group of local developers, businessmen and other officials were then appointed by the city council to form a non-profit group in order to pursuit this possible financing.
Wednesday night in a crowded meeting at Union Station, the community got its answer from Robert Malone who is a member of the group.
"The National Trust for Historic Preservation has now given us a commitment letter indicating that they will allocate new market tax credits and historic preservation tax credits to projects worth up to $30 million."
However, that wasn't the end of his news.
"But consider this. Local banks have now given us non-binding letters of intent indicating that they are willing to consider up to $60 million worth of loans to projects that meet their underwriting criteria. Ladies and gentlemen, the bankers in this community gets it. They've been very supportive."
Tax credits encourage investments by allowing those investors to take those credits off money they would otherwise pay in taxes. The loans can be used only in historic districts such as Meridian's downtown and would be eligible for such projects as restoration of the Three Foot building, the Jimmy Rodgers Museum, an African-American Cultural Center, a Children's Health and Science Discovery Center and others.
The state's director of economic development, Leland Speed who attended the meeting was asked if this was an example of that old axiom, 'Lead, follow or get out of the way!'
"That's absolutely what I'm trying to say," said Speed. "We have a number of communities that are setting a good example to the balance of the state. There's a lot of the state that needs encouragement and I think what you're doing here in Meridian provides a good example to a lot of other communities."
Meridian is the smallest community in the country to ever receive such credits for historic restoration.