Arts Districts Offer Hope

In an article on the value of Maryland’s Arts District, the New York Times examined the hope such designated areas have for revitalization.  The State has 18 approved zones and in each one developers receive incentives for building or renovating arts-related properties.  In addition artists are exempt from Maryland income tax for work created in the district, the newspaper noted.  Elkton Town Commissioner Jablonski is quoted discussing the impact an Arts District has had in Elkton.

From the New York Times —-

May, 18, 2010 Baltimore — On a recent Sunday afternoon, the Camden Yards complex, containing Oriole Park and the Sports Legends Museum, was crowded. So was the 1st Mariner Arena, where the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus was performing. But a few blocks from the arena, on North Eutaw Street, the sidewalks and most of the storefronts were empty.

Asked whether this was the proposed arts district, employees of the nearly deserted Starbucks on the corner at 1 North Eutaw Street looked puzzled. But an arts district is what the city hopes the neighborhood will become, with support from state and federal governments.

In a letter last March to the National Endowment for the Arts, the city requested a $250,000 grant to help determine the outlines of the district. The letter said Baltimore’s “population, diversity, density and physical size make it an ideal incubator and test ground for new ideas about the intersection of art and community in the 21st century.”

Still, the arts district is very much a 20th-century idea. Ever since SoHo in Manhattan went from industrial to postindustrial chic in the 1970s and ’80s, cities have hoped to lure the creative people who bring street life, commerce and, eventually, high real estate prices. And cities have been willing to spend tax money to do so.

Maryland already has 18 state-approved arts districts, including two in Baltimore. In each district, developers receive property tax reductions for building or renovating arts-related properties. In addition, artists are exempt from Maryland income tax for work created in the district.

But according to a state official, there was no way to know how much that exemption costs the state each year. Wallace A. Eddleman, an assistant director of the office of the comptroller, said the design of the state income tax form (on which some boxes serve multiple purposes) and computer program limitations made the calculation impossible.

“Based on our system constraints right now, we would not be able to identify the dollar amount of subtractions claimed for this credit,” Mr. Eddleman said. He said in a later e-mail message that a new integrated tax system under development could make that possible in the future.

Whatever the costs of arts districts, Maryland is now facing a $2 billion budget shortfall. Sean O’Donnell, a graduate student in law and ethics at the University of Baltimore and a blogger on fiscal responsibility, wrote that the proposed district “would be financed by tax revenue that the city doesn’t have.” In a phone interview, he described optimism about the plan as “idealism without reason.”

Elkton, a town of 15,000 in the northeast corner of the state, designated a downtown arts district in 2003. At the time, said Mary Jo Jablonski, the director of the Elkton Alliance, there were 33 vacant spaces in the neighborhood. Now there are just two or three, she said, “which is pretty good in a recession.” She attributed the change directly to the arts district designation.

article continues on the New York Times

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2 responses to “Arts Districts Offer Hope

  1. That new york times never could get it right like Rush said. They must have gone to Northeast

    • Watcher:

      The New York Times was just using quotes from local sources in the article. The newspaper wasn’t saying that there are only 3 vacancies in Elkton. That came from Commissioner Jablonski and they used her quotes.

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