Annapolis gets arts district approval

City plans zone for theaters, exhibition space, artist housing

June 01, 2008|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,Sun reporter

The state has approved plans by Annapolis and a Harford County city to establish arts and entertainment districts, allowing them to offer tax abatements to artists and culture-oriented businesses in an effort to ignite economic development.

The Capital City Cultural Arts District, whose boundaries have been revised several times, will be anchored by Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, and will encompass the historically black Clay Street area and run along West Street to Brown Street. The 45-acre district will also include the projected 2010 opening of the Bates Magnet School for the Arts.

Envisioned as a cluster of theaters and exhibition halls among housing for artists, the district is not expected to take shape for at least a year while an advisory board is put into place.

"The development and expansion of the Arts and Entertainment Districts enhances the quality of life for residents, business owners and artists while showcasing, preserving and promoting Maryland culture," Gov. Martin O'Malley said in a statement issued Friday announcing the selections of Annapolis and Havre de Grace as the 16th and 17th cities in the state program. The state also approved the expansion of the district in Hagerstown.

The announcement came as officials said that they will apply for another state-sponsored economic stimulus tool called Main Street Maryland Program, which helps local government officials and downtown business leaders work on long-term revitalization programs.

Michael F. Miron, the city's economic development director, said the city wants to take advantage of the millions of dollars available for smart-growth revitalization through the program.

Miron said the plan will be introduced to the city council at its June 9 meeting. He said the Main Street designation is tentatively envisioned to cover Main and Francis streets, the first block of West Street and Maryland Avenue. The program has designated 18 communities in 12 counties, resulting in the opening of 833 new businesses and the creation of 3,350 new jobs, according to state officials.

"While we believe we have a pretty nifty place, this would be an extension of what we have," said Mayor Ellen O. Moyer. "Under a Main Street Program there are monies that become available for property owners to do some of the new fix-ups. Where we may have lost some of the authenticity in our historic district, it would give us an opportunity to restore some of that."

The arts and entertainment district designation is a victory for Moyer, who pushed for the site but faced fierce opposition from city council members and constituents who complained that the district would be a concentration of nightclubs and drinking establishments, drawing noise and threatening the area's character. She then faced accusations of rushing the application through to beat the state deadline for 2008, as Brooklyn Park is expected to apply next year to establish an arts district. Only one jurisdiction per county can apply each year.

"This great fear that people were talking about, 'Oh, it's going to be nightclubs,'" Moyer said. "It doesn't dictate that at all. What zoning does dictate is small business development - a lot of good things."

After the district was scaled down several times, it finally passed the council, clearing the way for the city to apply for the designation through the Maryland Department of Business and Economic development, which administers the program through the Maryland State Arts Council. The County Council must also approve the application process.

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