Westminster, Sykesville entertaining the idea of creating an arts district

Md. tax incentives offered to artists, developers in designated area

October 14, 2001|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

Pleased with their plans to transform an old downtown movie theater into an arts center, Westminster city officials are considering creating a designated arts and entertainment district to draw more arts events and resident artists to town.

"Our vision would be to have a section of town with an arts trade strong enough to have people come from out of town to take advantage of it," said Common Council President Damian L. Halstad.

But after reviewing the sizable application manual for Maryland's newly created arts and entertainment district program, Halstad said last week that Westminster would not be among the first municipalities to apply for the state program. The Department of Business and Economic Development program, patterned after one in Providence, R.I., offers tax incentives to artists and developers to rent and renovate property in the designated area. A maximum of six municipalities per fiscal year - one from each county - are selected.

"Having reviewed [the application], it's very clear that the DBED office is going to want a lot of information that we do not have," he said.

As a result, Halstad, along with other members of the council and city economic development specialist Stanley T. Ruchlewicz are planning to spend the next seven months creating the necessary detailed maps and plans needed to apply. Westminster likely will apply in time for the program's April 1 deadline.

Legislation creating the state program passed during the 2001 Maryland General Assembly session and became effective July 1.

Halstad said he would like to see the city's arts and entertainment district extend down West Main Street from Western Maryland College to Railroad Avenue, including the Carroll Arts Center, planned for the old movie theater on Main Street. It could also include Pennsylvania Avenue and East Green Street.

However, the state program is restricted to properties zoned only for commercial or industrial use, and downtown Westminster has few sites that meet those qualifications.

As a result, Ruchlewicz said the city is exploring the creation of its own independent arts and entertainment district.

"We could still do tax credits for renovations, and exempt admissions and amusement tax, but I don't think we'll have the ability to waive income tax," Ruchlewicz said. Having the city's own program would increase local control and local flexibility, he added.

According to the state, performances, festivals, art shows and other forms of cultural arts generated $726 million for Maryland's economy and provided more than 17,000 jobs last year.

Baltimore, Cumberland, Bethesda and four towns in Prince George's County have expressed interest in the state's new designation. Hagerstown has printed an eight-page glossy color brochure that summarizes its ambitious plans for an arts and entertainment district.

In Carroll, Sykesville is also interested in the state's arts and entertainment designation. Mayor Jonathan S. Herman said the district would be located partly downtown and partly at the Warfield Complex.

"These arts and entertainment centers give opportunities to towns and cities they wouldn't have otherwise," Herman said. "The town of Sykesville and all of South Carroll is very much interested in seeing cultural activities and artistic endeavors take place in this area."

Herman said his town would also wait until next year to apply for the program.

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