Penn Station arts district sought

City hopes to enliven midtown area with help of tax breaks

November 29, 2001|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Baltimore has chosen a struggling section of midtown near Penn Station for state designation as an arts and entertainment district, city officials said yesterday.

Mayor Martin O'Malley is expected to announce tomorrow the city's nomination for a new statewide program offering tax incentives to artists and developers. The mayor's announcement is scheduled for the heart of the proposed district, at the Heritage Cinema House in the first block of E. North Ave.

The 100-acre area - bounded roughly by Howard Street, 20th Street, Greenmount Avenue and Penn Station - was proposed by Michael E. Johnson, founder of the Heritage theater, which specializes in African-American films.

Johnson said yesterday that he was told by city officials that the area around his theater had been selected for the designation. "That's where the help is needed," he said. "Why not there?"

Johnson said the train station is a focal point for the proposed district, which he and others are calling the Penn Station Arts and Entertainment District.

In addition to his movie house, the area includes the revamped Charles Theatre and the Everyman Theatre.

The application for the area was one of seven proposals for districts in the city submitted to the Mayor's Advisory Council on Arts and Culture, officials said. City officials are urging cooperation between the Penn Station district winners and applicants from the adjacent Midtown Community Benefits District.

A spokesman for O'Malley declined to comment yesterday, saying the city had not notified all applicants of the outcome. Other officials confirmed the Penn Station area selection.

Six sites across Maryland will be designated in February as arts and entertainment districts by the state Department of Business and Economic Development.

"We're very confident" that Baltimore will be among the state's choices, Johnson said. In preparing the Penn Station application, Johnson said, he consulted with 10 artists and five developers.

In an effort to create zones encouraging the arts and to enliven urban and rural landscapes, the Maryland General Assembly passed a law this year that provides property and income tax incentives to people who live in and developers who build in designated arts districts.

State Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat and the legislation's chief sponsor, would not discuss any of the seven city applicants but said she expected an economic "multiplier effect" as people interested in the arts congregate, including gallery-goers and theater buffs.

Hoffman said the proverbial starving writer and artist wouldn't mind the rough edges in some of the neighborhoods that could be redeveloped under the program. "Artists are notoriously willing to live in all kinds of areas," she said.

Johnson said reasonable rents and costs of living in the Penn Station area could be a magnet for younger artists. Another asset, he said, is the racial composition of that patch of Baltimore, which could become a haven for African and Caribbean art.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.