The tiny southeast Indiana town of Brookville is seeing an economic resurgence, thanks in part to a federal tax incentive created to spur redevelopment in distressed areas. The revival includes an $11 million restoration of the Valley House, a Franklin County hotel that has stood since before the Civil War, marking the state’s first completed Opportunity Zone project.
The 168-year-old building is now known as Valley House Flats and serves as a senior living community.
“This is our hometown. This is where we raised our kids,” said Mick Wilz, who invested in the project. He sold his Cincinnati-based business and was looking to reinvest some of his capital gains.
“Our accountants said, ‘Do know about opportunity zones?’” said Wilz.
Opportunity Zones are tax incentives to encourage those with capital gains to invest in low-income and undercapitalized communities.
The federal designation and investment program was created by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 signed by President Trump.
“An opportunity zone is designed to enrich, to help revitalize a town. It’s hard to get investors to come into a small town,” explained Ellen Rippe of Trinity Guardion Investments LLC.
The Valley House is the first completed Opportunity Zone project in the state. There are more than 150 opportunity zones around Indiana.
“Never in a million years did I think that we’d have a group of investors come in a matter of months,” said Nick Lawrence, president of the Wheatley Group, a Sellersburg-based economic development group. “This has all been very exciting. And it’s put everything on overdrive, the speed at which some of these development deals are happening. What would normally take years to come together, it’s happening in months to get this across the finish line.”
The Valley was once the longest operating hotel in Indiana until it was abandoned in the early 1970s.
As Rippe took Inside INiana Business reporter Mary-Rachel Redman on a tour of the newly christened facility, she explained how precise the renovation was.
“You can see the floor. It’s worn. There were blue and moldings and broken pieces. So, what we had to do was we had to refinish the floor, we had to find the pieces that we could maintain,” said Rippe.
For Wilz and his wife, they are happy to invest in their hometown.
“We could have held on to some of the money, gave it to our children. With the opportunity zone, we’re living our legacy. We’re able to see it,” said Wilz.
Brookville has attracted more than $20 million in investment capital with several more projects in the works.