Posts tagged with "national politics":

Congress gears up for a fight over mass timber legislation

This is an article from our special November timber issue. The battle over the 2017 Timber Innovation Act is gaining momentum in Washington, D.C., where two new Senate sponsors and four new Congress members have signed on to it since this past May. The pending legislation would provide funding for research into innovative wood materials and mass timber structures above 85 feet. The bill’s proponents are hoping that it will be an impetus for transforming cities and towns across the country with a bevy of mid-rise and high-rise mass timber buildings. “I am very impressed with the large cross-aisle support,” Chadwick Oliver, director of Yale University’s Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry, said. “You have Bruce Westerman, a Republican congressman from Arkansas and Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon who has been on the side of environmental groups. This looks like a bill that is quite serious about moving forward.” However, the concrete and steel industries are vigorously lobbying to derail the legislation, and have established a website called Build with Strength that contains a detailed critique of the new generation of wood buildings. “It is a piece of legislation that props up one industry over another and we think that it is misguided and dangerous,” Kevin Lawlor, a spokesperson from Build with Strength, said. “We don’t think that it is safe in three-to-five story buildings, and we don’t think that it is safer in taller buildings.” The wood products industry, the U.S. Forest Service, and other advocates claim that technological advances make the new generation of tall timber buildings more fire resistant. In fact, according to Dr. Patricia A. Layton, director of the Wood Utilization + Design Institute at Clemson University, that is because of the way it chars in a fire: By insulating its interior, an exposed wood beam can actually be structurally stronger than a steel one. “Steel loses its strength at a lower temperature than does wood,” she explained. “If you expose concrete or steel it is combustible, and it does feel the effects of fire.” Many of the act’s supporters say that allowing buildings to be built from wood technologies such as cross-laminated timber (CLT) will result in a host of economic and environmental benefits. Most of the Timber Innovation Act’s sponsors hail from states where the wood industry is struggling to recoup from the recent housing downturn and also suffering from the decrease in demand for paper that is a result of the increasing digitalization of the economy. “A big part of the innovation act is having the U.S. Forest Service work to expand markets and attract business to heavily forested states, particularly those that have a major timber industry,” said Andrew Dodson, vice president of the American Wood Council, who notes that the U.S. Timber Innovation Act is a way to help jumpstart a sagging wood-products industry. “Mills are running at much lower capacity,” he said, “two shifts versus three or four—we want to put more mill jobs back in place.” However, some in the mass timber industry say that the Timber Innovation Act will be of limited utility until building codes are changed to allow for the use of CLT. “The code issue is more critical than the Timber Innovation Act,” Jean-Marc Dubois, director of business development for the Montreal-based Nordic Structures, said. He believes that New York City’s restrictive building codes have helped stall progress on tall timber, pointing to the wooden skyscraper designed by SHoP architects that was killed earlier this year as an example. Even though the 2015 International Building Code (IBC), which New York City has not adopted, allows for the use of CLT, Dubois said that building departments throughout the country haven’t updated their codes to allow for the use of CLT. Having the SHoP project, which received a lot of publicity, fail to get built was a major setback for the industry, according to Dubois. “New York City had the ability to be a real-world leader with timber innovation,” he said. “It was disappointing.” A $250,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service’s Wood Innovations Grant program helped Yugon Kim of Boston-based IKD develop what he believes is the first hardwood CLT structure in the U.S.: An outdoor sculpture in Columbus, Indiana, which consists of a series of ascending arcing forms. Congress is not the only place in Washington where the merits of tall mass timber are being explored. Steve Marshall, assistant director at the U.S. Forest Service, has been working with the International Code Council to develop standards for the use of CLT. In addition, the U.S. Department of Defense has been conducting blast tests with CLT to determine whether it is an appropriate material to use on its bases. Marshall said there are other potential sources for government support for CLT projects aside from direct funding from the Timber Innovation Act. In the third week of October, his agency will be releasing a new round of grants of up to $250,000 under its Wood Innovations Grants program. Next year, the Forest Service is planning on making $8 million available under the same program, and applications will be due by mid-January. One of the most notable examples of how government funding can play a difference is with LEVER Architecture's innovative design of the 12-story (148-foot-tall) Framework building under construction in Portland, Oregon, which will be the first wood high-rise in the U.S. A $1.5 million U.S. Tall Building Award sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture helped fund the seismic and fire-safety tests that enabled it to pass muster with Portland building department officials. Thomas Robinson, principal of LEVER Architecture said that the concrete and steel industries shouldn’t be worried about losing market share because in the future most tall timber structures will be hybrids that include concrete and steel as well as wood. “We need to look at each material for its appropriate purpose,” he said.

Popular historic tax credit is on the Congressional chopping block

A tax reform bill introduced in the House of Representatives on Thursday would eliminate a widely used measure for combatting urban decay, even as developers and preservationists argue that the program more than pays for itself. The Historic Tax Credit (HTC), introduced in 1981 by the Reagan administration, provides a 20% tax credit over five years for projects that revitalize historical buildings that would have otherwise fallen into disrepair. Paying out only after the project has finished, the program generates $1.20 in tax revenue for every dollar spent, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Shifting the cost burden entirely to the private sector, the tax credit has made it easier for developers to find funding for rehabilitation projects that lenders are typically wary of. A 2015 report by the National Park Service and Rutgers University has shown how the credit has ultimately generated over $131 billion in private investments and preserved over 42,000 buildings across the country. By offsetting the increased design and construction costs associated with saved these blighted buildings, HTC has also created over 2.4 million construction, administration and local business jobs. Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, put out a statement after the House revealed its latest reform legislation. “By spurring public-private investment in the reuse of old and historic buildings, the federal Historic Tax Credit fuels the economic engine that is currently revitalizing downtowns, neighborhoods, and Main Streets across America. Getting rid of it now threatens the economic revival that is evident in America’s cities and towns. Any plan to revise the tax code should enhance, not abolish, a pro-growth investment like HTC.” A rare coalition has formed between developers, preservationists and members of Congress as support for saving the HTC has grown. In a bi-partisan letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Ways and Means, Congressman David B. McKinley, (R-WV), rallied for the credit even while acknowledging that he was expected to vote for the proposed tax reform bill. “Since its inception in 1978, this tax credit has spurred economic activity and has directly aided in the revitalization of Main Streets and rural communities nationwide. Over 40% of the projects using this credit have been in rural communities, breathing new life into their downtowns and attracting investment,” said McKinley. With the program funding everything from asbestos abatement to insulation replacement, the backlash to eliminating the HTC is only expected to grow as this latest attempt at tax reform makes its way through the House.

Obama library round-up: Woodlawn, Lakeside, Bronzeville and more vying for nation’s 14th presidential library

Speculation over the future site of President Barack Obama’s presidential library has picked up as a slew of Chicago sites—as well as some in New York, Hawaii, and even Kenya—made the June deadline for proposals. Ultimately the decision is up to the President and the board tasked with developing what will be the nation’s 14th presidential library, but dozens of groups are attempting to tug at that group's ears. (Even I used AN's June editorial page to consider the library's urban impact.) Here’s a round-up of some of the Chicago proposals made public so far. 63rd Street New York-based Michael Sorkin Studio released its plan for the library in January, proposing a campus stretched out along three blocks of 63rd Street in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood. They’re “highly conceptual” designs, as are most floated so far, but the plan calls for a campus centered around a ring-shaped building and extending several blocks. The development would make use of dozens of vacant lots in a struggling neighborhood adjacent to the University of Chicago. Bronzeville There’s a concerted effort to bring Obama’s library to Bronzeville, the South Side neighborhood and “black metropolis” vying to become a national heritage area. One prominent site there is the area once home to the Michael Reese Hospital. Combined with parking lots on the other side of South Lake Shore Drive, the site would total 90 acres of lakefront property. It’s been targeted for other large developments, including a casino, a data center and housing for Olympic athletes during Chicago’s failed 2016 bid. A few years ago SOM led a team of designers and developers tasked with sizing up the site for redevelopment, and you can read their plans here. HOK recently floated a plan for redevelopment of the Michael Reese site, including a rendering (at top) of the proposed library. Lakeside McCaffery Interests and U.S. Steel teamed up to rehabilitate that industrial giant’s nearly 600-acre lake infill site in the neighborhood of South Chicago. It’s the largest undeveloped site in the city. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Lynn Sweet first reported last week that McCaffery threw his hat in the ring for Obama's library. Renderings from SOM, Lakeside’s lead design firm, show a heavy walkway that twists elegantly upward around a glass box, jutting over Lake Michigan that appears here as if it were the world’s largest reflecting pool. Chicago State University Down the road from Lakeside, Chicago State University is also a potential site. It's situated in Roseland, where Obama worked as a community organizer. For the Huffington Post, Hermene Hartman argued CSU is the best place for the library, because it would have the greatest neighborhood impact. University of Chicago The U of C called the library "an historic opportunity for our community," and—to no one's surprise—submitted a proposal to bring Obama's legacy back to where he taught law. They set up a website for the bid, but no images or details are publicly available at this time. University of Illinois Chicago U of I is among the institutions of higher education vying for the library, and it has proposed three plans on the West Side: a 23-acre site in North Lawndale; an “academic” option at UIC-Halsted; and a “medical” option at the Illinois Medical District, which is also home to another long-vacant white elephant—the Cook County Hospital building. McCormick Place As reported by Ted Cox for DNAinfo Chicago, Ward Miller, president of Preservation Chicago, thinks the library could revitalize the underused Lakeside Center East Building at McCormick Place, the massive convention center on Chicago’s near South Side. Miller previously proposed that the building be considered for George Lucas' Museum of Narrative Art.

Cleveland lands 2016 Republican National Convention

The Republican National Committee (RNC) selected Cleveland this week for the site of their upcoming convention. Cleveland beat out Dallas with a bipartisan lobbying effort that lasted months. At their 2016 convention Republicans will nominate a candidate for President, hoping to regain the White House after eight years of Democratic leadership. But what does it mean for Cleveland? According to the city’s mayor, Democrat Frank Jackson, about $200 million. That’s how much economic activity the convention is estimated to create, mainly for utilities, hotels, airport businesses and restaurants. Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena is expected to host floor events for the convention in June 2016. It’s not free money, though. As Diana Lind pointed out for Next City, the RNC asked its host committee to front $68 million for its venues and security—standard operating procedure for the federally subsidized political meeting. Lind noted that a study commissioned by last election season’s host committee, Tampa Bay, found more than half of the direct and indirect spending the RNC brought to the city was in the form of telecommunications upgrades by AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and TECO Energy—infrastructure improvements that might have happened anyway. Cleveland has bet big on convention centers in recent years, building a Global Center for Health Innovation that aims to be the "Epcot of healthcare" at the heart of downtown’s Daniel Burnham–planned civic core. In an ongoing effort to start an urban recovery that will stick, Cleveland could use the RNC convention to show off the city’s growing trade show business in a city whose unemployment rate remains above the national average.