Developer: Tax rules hinder Curtiss-Wright Hangar restoration

Curtiss-Wright Hangar
It’s been more than two years since a developer said he wanted to restore the historic Curtiss-Wright Hangar at Hamilton-Owens Airport. Businessman Scott Linaberry says he’s having trouble securing investors, and he blames the tax code.

By Rebecca Johnson
May 6, 2014

The dust-filled air of the deteriorated Curtiss-Wright Hangar at Hamilton-Owens Airport is heavy with smells of damp wood, rust and decay. It has weathered the elements for the past 84 years.

But now it may fall victim to the tax code.

Curtiss-Wright Hangar
It is the oldest building at Hamilton-Owens Airport and one of the first hangars built by the Curtiss-Wright Co. The hangar has seen the likes of President Franklin Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart, but there is no record that a Wright brother ever set foot in it.

For  2 1/2 years, Columbia businessman Scott Linaberry has been working to restore the 12,000-square-foot hangar into an events venue, meeting place and family restaurant. But Linaberry says the IRS is too heavy-handed in monitoring partnerships involving historic restoration tax credits and that it’s scaring away potential investors.

Almost half of the $4.7 million he estimates is needed is tied up in those credits.

“It’s not worth restoring an old building without them,” Linaberry says. “A lot of projects are really in limbo, and essentially we’re just waiting.”

The Curtiss-Wright Co., with roots back to aviation pioneers Wilbur and  Orville Wright, built the hangar in 1929. It was the first permanent structure and is the oldest building at Hamilton-Owens Airport.

Originally built to store aircraft, it soon became a hub for airmail and passenger travel. In the 1930s, the hangar welcomed Amelia Earhart and President Franklin Roosevelt.

The hangar is one of the oldest in the nation and one of the first built by Curtiss-Wright, said C. Cantzon Foster II, president of the S.C. Historic Aviation Foundation.

Inside the Curtiss-Wright Hangar
Built in 1929, the hangar was the first permanent building on the property at Hamilton-Owens Airport. It was originally used for airmail, but was eventually used for passenger service. At one point, it housed a U.S. Army Air Force squadron.

“It is important to South Carolina because it’s a symbol of South Carolina’s achievement in aviation and aeronautic history (PDF),” he said. “I’d like to see it used to promote South Carolina’s aviation heritage.”

The hangar restoration qualifies for state and federal tax credits expected to raise about $2.1 million in tax equity, Linaberry said. That leaves more than half of the $4.7 million to be borrowed or funded by sponsors or other partners, he said.

Developers want tax credits so they don’t have to invest so much of their own money before a project is underway, said Dan Elswick of the State Historic Preservation Office in the Department of Archives and History.

“The idea is to give a balance to new construction and help people use historic buildings,” he said.

Linaberry hopes a review of pending changes in tax regulations will make  partnerships using the credits more appealing to investors. According to proposed federal rules issued earlier this year, the IRS won’t challenge such partnerships if they meet a list of requirements. The changes await review by Congress and the Government Accountability Office.

If the changes are approved, Linaberry thinks it will be easier to find investors.

John Sherrer, director of cultural resources at Historic Columbia, says the hangar represents an important chapter in Columbia’s growth.

Inside the hangar
The 12,000 square-foot hangar is 84 years old and has fallen into decay awaiting renovation. The plan is to turn it into a restaurant and meeting and events venue, with space upstairs for an aviation and aeronautics museum and exhibits.

“A lot of people think it’s just a derelict building,” Sherrer says. “It has links to early transit and aviation, and it is a link to people as important as Amelia Earhart.”

But Chris Eversmann, the airport manager, has a warning: “If we don’t restore it soon, its condition will continue to deteriorate and it will need to be torn down.”

Richland County Councilman Seth Rose, who worked with Linaberry to get County Council approval of the renovation, hopes that day won’t come. “If you can imagine being out there on a beautiful night, having a drink and watching planes land, it’s an amazing thing for a historic structure,” he said.

Listen to Chris Eversmann explain why the restoration must begin soon.

Hear Eversmann explain why the restoration would be good for the community.

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