Steven Carson

Steve Carson, who owns Bohemian Coffee House, said the Final Fridays events would help support local artists. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun / October 16, 2011)

The Station North Arts and Entertainment District will spend a federal grant to encourage commuters leaving downtown after work — as well as those using Penn Station — to stop and stay a while.

"Final Fridays" — a program of events on the last Friday of each month — will feature entertainment and will be funded with part of a $150,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

"The goal is to get all the people who often pass through Station North on their way to have a reason to stop here after work on Friday," said Ben Stone, executive director of the district, which includes parts of the Charles North, Barclay and Greenmount West neighborhoods.

Most shows at the area's theaters and music venues start between 9 and 11 p.m., Stone said, so the goal of Final Fridays was to keep people in the area until showtime. "There's a gap, and this is an attempt to fill that gap," he said.

For area businesses, the events offer a chance to attract new customers and boost sales.

Station North Arts Cafe Gallery co-owner Kevin Brown plans to keep the cafe, which usually serves only breakfast and lunch, open until 9 p.m. during the Final Fridays events.

"Final Fridays will give us the opportunity to stretch our wings a little bit and see if people will stay on if we stay open longer," he said.

The first 150 people who arrive at Final Fridays will receive a "Sta-Note" — a $2 gift certificate that more than 10 area businesses have agreed to accept during Final Fridays.

Early birds will be able to redeem them for $2 off a book at Cyclops or $2 off coffee or food at the Station North Arts Cafe. They could also lower the cost of cover charges at Single Carrot Theater or the Baltimore Rock Opera Society.

Participating businesses will be reimbursed using grant money, Stone said.

The event will kick off on Oct. 28 with a free performance by the band David Wax Museum, as well as acts by local musicians.

Final Fridays programming will move indoors from November to February, with plans to resume outdoor events in March, Stone said. Organizers hope to alternate between venues in Charles North and Greenmount West, he said.

For Halloween, West Trenton Street — an alley that connects Charles and Maryland streets just south of North Avenue — will be transformed into an "urban forest," Stone said, adding that Halloween costumes and pumpkins would also be for sale.

He said that given the district's mix of restaurants, theaters and performance spaces, "one could easily [arrive] at 5 [p.m.] and stay until 4 in the morning and not have much downtime."

The federal grant, intended to support public-private partnerships that promote the arts while improving neighborhoods physically and economically, requires dollar-for-dollar matching.

Stone, however, said he wanted to raise a half-million dollars through both donations of cash and services. He also hopes the programming will continue with local contributions after the one-year federal grant is exhausted.

The director also wants to lure an older, more diverse crowd.

"Since there is art for sale in so many galleries, the larger the range of people, the better it is around here," Stone said.

The nonprofit also seeks to build an audience for artists and performers based in the district. "The most sustainable way is to get people interested in what [the local artists are] doing," Stone said.

Fear of crime may have been a deterrent for potential visitors. But Stone and business owners said police report that violent crime in the area has been low.