Talking Heads Brian Goeken, National Park Service

10 min read

Historic’s Future    

Brian Goeken is widely regarded as one of the nation’s top historic preservation experts with a background spanning over 25 years in urban planning, architecture, economic development and urban design.

Since 2011, he has served as chief of technical preservation services at the National Park Service, where he oversees a staff of 20 people and day-to-day management of the federal government’s Historic Tax Credit (HTC) program.

Prior to joining the National Park Service, Goeken worked in the City of Chicago’s planning and development department for 15 years, including ten years as deputy commissioner in charge of the city’s historic preservation program.

Tax Credit Advisor sat down with Goeken to talk about current trends in the wake of tax reform, upcoming initiatives, and where he sees the program headed.

Tax Credit Advisor: What impact has tax reform had on the utilization of the HTC program? Are you seeing more applications, fewer, about the same?

Brian Goeken: Certainly, in the first half of the fiscal year, we fielded a lot of questions and saw an increase in application activity as a result of tax reform, particularly as Congress was deliberating on a bill before it was passed and signed into law on December 22, 2017. We saw an increase in the number of applications at the end of the 2017 calendar year—a 40 percent increase in Part 1 applications (Evaluation of Significance) and a ten percent increase in Part 2 applications (Description of Proposed Rehabilitation). However, our year-to-date numbers do not show as much of an increase – only a four percent increase in Part 2 applications year-to-date over last fiscal year.

TCA: Besides tax reform, how else has the program changed under the current administration? Does the administration have any key priorities for the HTC program this year and next?

Goeken: Tax reform has had, by far, the biggest impact on the tax incentives program this year, particularly as property owners have applied for NPS approvals as they sought to undertake projects under the transition provisions that would allow them to take the tax credits under the old rules. One of the Department of the Interior’s key priorities is to support job creation, and the tax incentives program is one of the programs that advances that priority. The program generated an estimated 107,000 jobs in the last fiscal year, and more than 2.5 million jobs since the program was established in 1976.

TCA: Let’s discuss program trends. What states are you seeing the most HTC activity? What types of structures are being rehabilitated? What are the most popular end uses?

Goeken: The tax incentives program is administered by the National Park Service in partnership with the State Historic Preservation Offices, which play a major role in the promotion, carrying out, and ultimate success of the program. The top five states last fiscal year in terms of Part 2 applications (proposed projects) were Louisiana, Missouri, New York, Ohio and Virginia, but Part 2 applications were received from all but two states last year – so the tax incentives program is making an impact throughout the nation. We see all types of buildings rehabilitated through the program: schools, warehouses, factories, churches, barns, retail stores, apartments, hotels, houses, office buildings, theaters, etc. Some of the more unusual building types in FY2017 included two asylums, a Civilian Conservation Corps camp, a winery, a log cabin, an armory and convention hall, a trolley barn, a 1930s service station, a cotton compress warehouse, an ice house, a WWII-era barracks and several livery stables.

About half of all projects involve residential building types. Most of the completed projects last fiscal year had residential or commercial end-uses, but this would include residential buildings that may have been converted into a commercial use, like a hotel, and non-residential buildings, like a textile mill converted into apartments.

A significant portion of the residential projects involved low- and moderate-income housing, both new and rehabilitated. More than a third of all new or rehabilitated housing units in FY2017 were reported to be low- and moderate-income units.

In FY2017, 1,035 historic rehabilitation projects were certified by the NPS after they had already been completed, representing $5.82 billion in estimated rehabilitation costs that qualified for the 20 percent tax credit. Another 1,501 proposed projects were also approved in FY2017. Many of these projects involved buildings that were abandoned or underutilized and in need of substantial rehabilitation to return them to, or for their continued, economic viability. The HTC program also is an important tool in helping to revitalize older, economically depressed communities. According to NPS data analyzed by online demographic tool, PolicyMap, 50 percent of the certified rehabilitation projects in FY 2017 were located in low- and moderate-income census tracks and over 79 percent were located in economically distressed areas.

A common misconception about the HTC program is that it only supports large projects and projects in large cities. Half of all projects in FY17 were under $1 million in rehabilitation costs, and 20 percent were under $250,000. A quarter of all certified rehabilitation projects in FY17 were located in communities with under 50,000 in population and over 15 percent in communities with under 25,000 in population.

TCA: What is your preservation philosophy when it comes to approving or denying tax credit applications? Has that philosophy evolved since you took over in 2011?

Goeken: The program, as created by Congress, has a dual mission – to promote, through private investment, both historic preservation and community revitalization (through the rehabilitation of historic buildings). To be eligible for the HTC, the National Park Service must certify that the rehabilitation retains and preserves the historic character of the property, including its character-defining features, spaces and materials. The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation are the basis for that determination. The Standards have an inherent flexibility necessary to be applied to a wide range of property types, projects and conditions, and are applied taking into consideration economic and technical feasibility. Additionally, the Standards are applied on a “cumulative-effect” basis – that is, taking into account the entire project, rather than on each treatment or aspect of the project individually. The National Park Service has continued to make periodic changes to the program administration and guidance, taking into account concerns expressed by the tax credit industry, as well as by other interested parties.

For example, in 2016 we issued new guidance, developed in response to concerns raised by industry stakeholders, for rehabilitating functionally-related buildings. Adapting and rehabilitating complexes of historic buildings can be challenging, and the new guidance allowed greater flexibility in how these projects could be treated for certification purposes. We also issued new guidance on other topics, such as accommodating necessary changes as part of maintaining the continued historic use of a property—for example, changes to industrial and manufacturing buildings related to meeting new special safety, environmental and other regulatory requirements, or changes in the manufacturing processes. More recently, we updated the guidelines that accompany the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards to ensure they continue to reflect best practices, as well as address, the treatment of buildings constructed with newer materials and systems from the mid-to-late 20th century. The new guidance addresses the challenges of repairing curtain-wall systems and other building systems when it may not be possible to repair or replace individual components or materials, meet modern code requirements, etc., without replacing the entire system.

TCA: What are some of the common reasons that applications are denied? What advice can you give our readers to avoid these mistakes? 

Goeken: The most common reason that applications are denied is for work undertaken without prior review and approval that does not meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation—for example, removing historic features, historic interior spaces or historic materials and finishes. In many, if not most instances, a denied project can often still be brought into conformance with the Standards for Rehabilitation with changes to the project. If the work has already been undertaken, however, it may make it more difficult to make changes to the project, or it may require remedial work in order to bring the project into conformance with the Standards.

TCA: The administration has not submitted any nominees to the Senate to fill the positions of National Park Service Director or Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, which has jurisdiction over the HTC program. What impact is this having on the tax credit program and the division you oversee?

Goeken: The work of the tax incentives program continues with the support of Departmental and NPS leadership.

TCA: I understand that multiple people in your office have retired or moved on and that these vacancies haven’t been filled. As a result, developers and others are experiencing longer wait times for their applications to be reviewed and approved. What steps are you taking to fill these vacancies?

Goeken: The Technical Preservation Services Office, which administers the program on behalf of the National Park Service, has experienced a number of vacancies over the past year as a result of retirements and other staff changes.  We are in the process of filling them as quickly as possible. Regarding review times, we appreciate the effects longer review times can have on rehabilitation projects seeking approvals, and we have focused our office’s efforts on review of applications. We did caution applicants to anticipate longer review times during this period, but for most states Part 2 reviews have generally continued to be at or close to (within a few days) 30 days for complete applications. In other instances, depending on the volume and particularly when there are spikes in application numbers—sometimes applications from a state arrive all at once—there have been periods of longer review times, particularly at the beginning of the fiscal year when we did see a marked increase related to tax reform in the number of submitted applications.

TCA: Where do you see the HTC program in five years? Are there any programmatic changes or enhancements that you would like to see implemented to help improve the administration of the program?

Goeken: The rehabilitation of modern resources, often involving new, experimental, under-engineered, or difficult-to-repair materials and systems, will continue to be a challenge. To this end, we will be looking at updating existing guidance and issuing new guidance, and we’re pleased to be sponsoring on March 13-16, 2019, the Preserving the Recent Past 3 conference, last held 15 years ago, and the third in a series of conferences NPS has sponsored on the topic with the Historic Preservation Education Foundation (and next year also sponsored with the University of Southern California School of Architecture). We are also working on ways to better issue new and updated guidance by moving from a predominantly print format to a web-based format that would allow us to update guidance more easily and frequently, make changes, include more examples, etc. Lastly, and most importantly, we want to continue to look for ways to strengthen and build upon our partnership with the State Historic Preservation Offices—whom we work closely with in administering the program and who play a critical role as the first point-of-contact for program users—as well as the tax credit industry and other preservation partners who are instrumental in the promotion and utilization of the tax incentives program.

Story Contact:
Brian Goeken, 

Darryl Hicks is vice president, communications for the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association and a 24-year veteran of associations managed by Dworbell, Inc., the management company of NH&RA.