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Goldman's New Idea: Schools at Half Price?



The man who credits himself with creating the City of the Future plan has another bright idea, and it's one he says could provide the city's school system with $100 million in school construction money.

Paul Goldman, on the outs with his former boss, Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, shared his new cash-generating scheme — along with some advice for dealing with the mayor's heavy-handed tactics — with the Richmond School Board's finance committee March 29.

His idea is an extension of his previous plan to use available historic tax credits to save 25 percent on the cost of school construction. It would involve nothing more complicated than changing a line in existing federal law, he says.

The federal government will pay a corporation to "turn a school into an elite condominium complex," Goldman told committee members, referring to the federal historic property tax-credit program. But it won't pay to re-purpose a school as a school.

Changing the law to include schools, he says, would garner an additional 25 percent savings on construction costs via the sale of those property-tax credits to developers, in addition to the existing state credits already available. "We'd basically be able to get our schools at half price," Goldman says.

The School Board does not pay property taxes, but can sell federal and state tax credits generated by refurbishing existing Richmond schools to developers.

Think a tall order like amending federal legislation sounds unlikely? Goldman doesn't, and he brought Tom Kasper, owner of a local firm that specializes in financing tax credit properties, to the School Board meeting to explain why.

Two bills are making their way through Congress to make technical changes to federal historic tax-credit laws, Kasper told the committee. Those bills do not specifically amend the law to allow schools to qualify for federal historic tax credits, but could be amended if political pressure were applied.

"We literally have the train sitting at the station," says Kasper, who first planted the historic tax-credit idea in Goldman's ear about a year ago. The idea — or at least the part that involves the currently available state historic credits — became an initial lynchpin of Wilder's City of the Future plan.

Goldman also suggests the School Board consider a bit of negotiating jujitsu with Wilder, using the mayor's own energies to deflect attempts to expand mayoral powers.

He refers to Wilder's early assertion that he controlled hiring and firing of the superintendent of schools. Rather than battle such power grabs head-on, Goldman says, schools could develop a method to include the mayor and City Council in advisory roles when hiring the superintendent.

School Board Vice Chairman Lisa Dawson says some but not all of Goldman's suggestions will be taken to the full board for consideration. S

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