Arts district envisioned

Brooklyn Park area proposed as center for artists, cultural development

May 06, 2007|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun reporter

Craft studios, artists lofts, galleries and more are at the hub of a plan to give a nudge to revitalization of the northern tip of Anne Arundel County.

"The vision is to have a cultural arts district in the Brooklyn Park area," said Carol Treiber, executive director of the Arts Council of Anne Arundel County. "It would be wonderful, like a little village, an arts village."

Proponents say a Brooklyn Park arts district has the potential to lure economic development as it provides amenities for thousands of people and reinvigorates one of the oldest sections of the county, parts of which have been neglected.

The idea, which has long sat on a far-back burner, is winning its first significant attention with the formation of a group to start studying it next month. Civic leaders, revitalization experts and people in government are expected to take part.

"We are in the early stages right now," said Daryl Jones, the first-term County Council member who has been quietly inviting people to look into such things as state requirements, benefits, locations and the like.

"We want the small coffee shops and those kinds of things, the bookshops. There is nothing like that in the northern part of the county. ... Brooklyn Park has a wonderful small-town touch to it - to add the cultural arts to it would be phenomenal," he said.

Fourteen such arts districts dot the state. They include sections of Highlandtown in Baltimore, Silver Spring in Montgomery County and Cumberland in Allegany County.

A county has to ask the state to designate the district. State and local tax breaks go to those who rehabilitate structures, build new ones, provide living and work space for artists, and locate businesses there. Local governments also invest in these areas.

Such districts do more than offer affordable spaces for artists and musicians. The districts also attract bookstores, restaurants, shops and more. They are convenient to the immediate community and a draw for outsiders. The development has a ripple effect through the wider community.

Eyes have turned to Brooklyn Park, founded as a suburb of South Baltimore, because although some of its neighborhoods are charming, some have suffered a lot of crime.

The community in recent years has gotten a new firehouse, senior center, arts center and road improvements; and had its Ritchie Highway business strip designated as a revitalization corridor.

In addition, base realignment and closure is projected to bring more than 20,000 residents to the region around Fort Meade over the coming decade. Communities that offer amenities will have an edge, officials say.

Brooklyn Park also has three large developments in the planning stages. Next to the Chesapeake Arts Center, a developer is looking to replace a blighted shopping center with 135 townhouses; on 163 acres next to Cedar Hill Cemetery, another developer is working on creating a community that will have 321 townhouses, 21 single-family houses, 394 condominiums, 218 stacked townhouses and 370 apartments; and a third wants to locate 91 townhouses just inside the Beltway, said Christopher Soldano, the assistant planning officer for the county.

The arts center is a major thrust behind the arts district idea. Thanks to a multimillion-dollar infusion of cash from state and local governments, it opened in 2001 in a wing of an old school. Last year, more than 50,000 people passed through its doors - including neighborhood youngsters taking dance classes and adults driving a half-hour to watch dance troupes - and its board wants to make more improvements to the building, said executive director David Jones, no relation to Daryl Jones.

Its success sparked other neighborhood improvements.

"What we found was people who owned homes right around there, across the street, fixed them up," said Ned Carey of Brooklyn Park, a school board member who chaired the Small Area Planning Group. He said the idea of an arts district had support on the planning group.

"To sit down and have a nice meal, then go to a play. ... I'd support that," said Woody Bowen, president of the Olde Brooklyn Park Improvement Association.

County Executive John R. Leopold encouraged the group to pursue consideration of it, saying, "It is consistent with our planning goals for revitalization."

He would, he said, think about a request for state arts and entertainment district designation if approached and if county resources permitted the tax breaks.

Arts district proponents see all that as encouragement for looking into an arts district.

"There's obviously a lot to be done. But if you don't take the first step, you never get started, and you never get to the next step," Daryl Jones said.

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